Finding Happiness in the Family Business
Liu is the key force behind YouBike, a wildly popular form of urban transportation and recreation.
Finding Happiness in the Family BusinessBy Sandy Lo
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 574 )
Vicky Liu sports a crisply cropped haircut, accented with a distinctive gray streak, and intense, bright eyes. The CEO of the Cycling Life-Style Foundation and YouBike spokesperson, she is also the eldest daughter of King Liu, founder of leading global bicycle brand Giant.
"Giant Bicycle is the world's most valuable bicycle company. With King Liu's full backing of the Cycling Life-Style Foundation, it's apparent he is preparing to hand over the reins to Vicky," said Robert Wu, CEO of KMC Kuei Meng International, parent company of global bicycle chain maker KMC Chain Industrial. Himself the son of company founder Charles Wu, he sees King Liu's passion and enthusiasm in daughter Vicky.
Born in 1958, Vicky Liu did not join the Giant Group after earning a degree in accounting from Tunghai University, opting instead to find employment in Taipei.
After marrying and starting a family several years later, in 1997 she emigrated with her family to the United States, where she settled into life as a "doctor's wife," relishing the tasks of chauffeuring her children around, playing golf, and volunteering.
Around this time, the Giant Group's Physical Education Foundation was reorganized as the Cycling Life-Style Foundation in 2000.
King Liu had great expectations that the foundation could cultivate Taiwan's cycling population. However, he still felt that a key component was missing – a leader with a strong sense of mission to serve that aim.
'Summoned' back to Taiwan
At a Liu clan Chinese New Year gathering in Hawaii in 2007, King Liu's children were all together in their father's suite, having a grand old time. As Vicky Liu regaled the family with tales of her participation as a volunteer at Chinese-American association and golf friendship club events, it suddenly dawned upon King Liu that the enthusiastic, capable individual he had in mind was right there in his family's midst. Delighted, he exclaimed, "Look at your personality, your fastidiousness, and passion. And you're doing all this volunteer work! You should get yourself back home to Taiwan to help out at the Foundation."
"I was thinking, I've been AWOL too long, and this time I won't be able to escape. I'll just think of the Chairman's ‘order' to come back as returning to give Dad a hand," Vicky recounts.
And so Vicky Liu returned to Taiwan on the first day of 2008 to formally begin work at the Cycling Life-Style Foundation. Her mission of promoting cycling culture in mind, she decided to get to know more about cycling herself.
First, visiting a riverside bike rental depot run by the foundation, she was bemused to discover that she did not even know how to wear a helmet. But with continuous effort, she gradually came to understand the needs of cyclists and even developed an interest in the sport from being in the saddle herself.
"I used to think of bicycles just as something my dad sold, assuming it had nothing to do with me. Only after getting involved did it become part of my life. And eventually I realized how incredible it was for my father to be in such a happy industry, so really blessed!" she exclaims with a big laugh.
Thinking back, Vicky relates that the main reason she emigrated to the United States was to get away from Taiwan's poor air quality and the chaos and noise of all the motor scooters and cars on the roads. However, she believed that if people could be encouraged to use bicycles instead, it could affect change on four different levels. First, it would get more people involved in physical fitness; second, it would reduce noise and air pollution; third, it would provide multiple uses for the space freed up by the lower usage of motorized vehicles; and fourth, it could transform urban living.
"With improved air quality, and more space available, restaurants could move tables and chairs out onto the street, making sidewalks more interesting, inviting, and helping unique shops to stand out better, like they do in Europe. I thought, let me see if I can help change the environment, to give the next generation a quiet, clean place to live," Vicky says.
Instilled with a sense of mission, the foundation was soon transformed after Vicky Liu's arrival. In addition to holding the annual Taiwan Bike Day, the foundation promoting the Rolling Rose Taiwan island circumnavigation training program for women, A-Team round-island event for cycling industry members, coming-of-age cycling events across Taiwan's 25 counties and cities, National Taiwan University EMBA round-island training, and monthly social cycling events.
The largest of the events the foundation conceived and organized was the colorful island-wide cycling event to celebrate the centennial of the ROC's founding. On the final day of 2011, over 72,000 people participated in a cycling relay around the island, establishing a new Guinness World Record.
Giant Group chief executive, Anthony Lo, marvels at her marketing and planning skills, citing her wealth of creativity, communication skills, and sure execution.
"Even though Vicky's younger brothers and sisters work at Giant as well, and are all competent and good leaders in their own right, they are all normal people – only she is not normal! Because she always thinks of different ideas, always coming up with surprises. She's such a talented person," Lo says.
Just as everything at the foundation was running smoothly, in 2012 Vicky was once again recruited by her father for a new assignment, tasked with overseeing the YouBike program jointly run by Giant with the Taipei city government. When she took it over it was a hot potato, having lost money for the third year in a row and averaging less than one usage per bicycle per day.
Following some assessments, adjustments were initiated that introduced the new-generation public bicycle in 2012. These included changing the color from steel blue to bright orange, using the EasyCard system for payments, deducting funds on a per-use basis, expanding the number of stations from 11 to 41, and adopting clever marketing ideas.
"We added the English ‘YouBike' term, which is cute and more inviting, to make the public feel like the bikes belong to them," relates Liu, who was then the general manager of the YouBike program.
Treating Work as One's Child
Talking about everything that has transpired with YouBike's development, Vicky Liu sounds like she is talking about her own son's growing up, recalling the details of every step along the way. From chains to saddles, baskets to lights, locks to wheel size, and switching to what is now the fourth generation of bells, each detail is infused her own stories, together making up a complete and very useful set of experiences.
KMC Chain chief Robert Wu observes that bicycle production is a rather staid endeavor, consisting of components, manufacturing, and assembly. Vicky Liu infused elements of beauty and emotion into the cold process. "She tied together dispersed, seemingly unrelated elements via the bicycle, something I call Soft Power," marvels Wu. Since 2013 YouBike's general manager position has been occupied by John Ho, formerly president of domestic sales for Giant, with Vicky Liu taking on the role of YouBike scheme spokeswoman.
The combination of John Ho's operational experience with the Taiwanese market and Vicky Liu's soft power has proven successful, taking the average rental per bike from less than one time per day during the trial period to 11 times at present. And the public bicycle program has now expanded well beyond Taipei to 420 rental stations in four counties and cities around the island, providing the public access to 12,000 bikes.
Observing how far the YouBike program has gone to promote cycling culture, King Liu has effusive praise for his daughter. "I'm 81 years old, and YouBike is the most meaningful work I've done. We're confident we can help change the world."
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman