OCTOBER 27, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 42 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK
Asia's Digital Elite
Suddenly everyone's a high-tech guru. But in the jumble of me-toos, has-beens, and geniuses, only a few have the power to really change your world
Lee Jae Woong, chairman of South Korea's No. 1 website, had this to say about broadband communications, the latest innovation to shake up the Internet: "When color TV came to Korea, we stared at the station-identification bars for hours. We were mesmerized by the color. This is where broadband content is today. We have this new medium, but we don't yet know how to use or appreciate it." That's a startling admission for someone who is on the cutting edge of the New Economy. It's foggy out there on the frontier, and it takes more than GPS and an I.T. degree to figure the best way forward. That's why you'll find Lee is a member of Asia's Digital Elite, our (first) annual look at the people who are shaping the region's high-tech future. On the following pages are innovators, new media barons, entrepreneurs, pundits, programmers and even a politician or two. Not all have the vision thing, not all are fabulously wealthy (some were, but the stock market tech wreck has left them merely wealthy). They do have a couple of things in common: influence, through deeds and words, and a willingness to forge ahead when there is no clear path. We're right behind them.
The Yips are Asia's other famous Hong Kong father/son Net duo (Richard Li of Pacific Century CyberWorks and his tycoon father Li Ka-shing being the premier pair). Peter gained instant celebrity status in July 1999 when Chinadotcom Corp. (then China.com Corp.) became the first Asian Internet portal to list on Nasdaq. Notorious for his demanding some would say difficult style of management, Peter Yip is nonetheless the consummate salesman, forever making deals. Under his leadership, Chinadotcom has developed into a pan-Asian Internet powerhouse with interests in not just portals, but also Web design, online advertising and incubation services for dotcom startups.
Those are some big footsteps to follow, and Antony has been blazing his own trail. He cut his teeth at his father's business, but left the nest to help found Outblaze in 1998. Then in July of last year he started up Myrice.com with former banker Howard Chu. The site assembles an ever-expanding collection of Chinese language websites in one place, where users can instantly see who else is logged on and chat with one another. Rumors on the Net have it that Myrice is being sized up by Hong Kong cable TV and broadband provider i-Cable. If that's true, Antony could soon find himself facing another career decision, at the ripe old age of 21.
The dutiful son obeyed, but today he is the one calling the shots. In the past few years, Koo Jr. has made the stodgy family business into a high-tech leader. Under his direction, Chinatrust Commercial Bank set up Taiwan's first online banking service. Koo also founded GigaMedia, a broadband service that builds on the Koo family's vast holdings in cable TV. And he is on the board of Bex.com, a transaction site for Western computer makers and Asian suppliers.
The family was leery of junior's digital expeditions. "People told my father that GigaMedia was a joke," chuckles Koo. "And then they said Bex was an even bigger joke." But after Microsoft bought 10% of GigaMedia in 1998, dad became a convert. He now defers to his son on matters of tech strategy. It seems Jeffrey has turned out to be a model son after all.
Murthy, who started with a $250 investment in 1981, is something of a national icon. His company has been growing by some 70% a year for the past six years, and earned $61 million last year. The first Indian company to list on the tech-heavy U.S. Nasdaq, Infosys has a market capitalization of $15.5 billion. Yet Murthy is a socialist at heart. (After making friends with socialists while working in France in the 1970s, he once gave away all his wealth.) He is passionate about empowering his employees through training, a good work environment, and stock options. Murthy says his biggest challenge these days is to manage Infosys's breakneck growth and keep the soul of a small organization in the body of a large one.
By Belinda Rabano, Yasmin Ghahremani, Sangwon Suh, Jonathan Sprague, Al Reyes and Alexandra A. Seno
Quick Scroll: More stories from Asiaweek, TIME and CNN