Taiwan's Future Leaders
Financing a Renaissance
EasyCard Corp. chairman Liu I-cheng is sowing the seeds of the electronic economy, but his true passion is helping put Taiwan's name on the map.
Financing a RenaissanceBy Hsiang-Yi Chang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 468 )
"Likes reading fiction. Likes writing fiction too. Loves movies, has been known to cry in the theater, and will even mortgage his own house to support a director he truly admires."
"MBA graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Was regional vice president for Greater China for J.P. Morgan Chase Co. by his 30s. Has served in top executive posts charged with corporate finance, consumer finance and risk management since joining Cathay Financial Holdings in 2003, becoming a rare example of someone rising to be a vice president at the nation's biggest private holding group before the age of 40."
"Young literati" and "financial elite" – the intrinsic qualities of these two seemingly disparate or even mutually exclusive identities come together in the person of EasyCard Corp. chairman Liu I-cheng, who turns 41 this July.
Liu had already begun building something of a name for himself while working his way up through foreign investment banks and Cathay Holdings as a young up-and-comer in Taiwan's domestic financial industry. But it wasn't until the release of the hit Taiwanese film "Cape No. 7" that most people became aware of this young vice president in the domestic finance industry, who for some time had been assisting promising local film directors with financing and financial planning, and had even pledged his own assets to invest in a domestic production simply because he "hopes the day will come when Taiwanese film is no longer a cottage industry."
Sowing Seeds More Significant than Cash
In February of last year, Liu suddenly resigned his vice president's post at Cathay Holdings to take over from Sean Lien as chairman of EasyCard Corp.
"I haven't really left the finance industry. EasyCard Corp. is like a financial institution dealing in small increments," Liu laughs. "But for me now, making money is not the primary consideration, and I get a greater sense of satisfaction in making the lives of ordinary people a little easier or even just getting Taiwan's name out there."
Liu says Ou Chin-der and Sean Lien, two former EasyCard Corp. chairmen, did an excellent job "laying the groundwork," and what he has done is largely to "sow seeds": expanding the network of contracted retailers that use EasyCard – a platform enabling small-scale electronic payments – as well as promoting EasyCard's points reward system and generally moving Taiwan toward a new lifestyle paradigm: "With just one card in hand, there's no need to leave home with cash."
Liu's management style is to be modest with superiors, and amiable with subordinates.
As one three-year veteran staffer puts it: "Chairman [Sean] Lien was like a general, who ran a disciplined ship, setting objectives and leading the charge. When objectives were not met, he could be harsh in reprisal. Chairman Liu is more like a sergeant, similarly setting objectives, but also spending a lot more time communicating with employees and seeking consensus, so everyone feels a part of that consensus. People feel like he's one of us."
Liu's personality allows him to excel at interpersonal relationships. Keenly sensitive to human nature, he's a hands-on leader with a broad circle of acquaintances and an ability to coordinate personnel that few 40-somethings of his generation possess.
Among his former mentors, Liu maintains a close personal friendship with Taiwan Business Bank chairman Peter T.C. Lo, despite being 23 years younger than the former Cathay Holdings board member.
"He (Liu) has outstanding professional abilities, and also a broad appreciation of culture and the arts, but most importantly, he's sincere and humble in dealing with others, whoever they may be. That's really rare in a young person with academic and professional achievements like his," Lo says, adding that Liu's innate facility for "human relations" is a big reason his superiors have relied so heavily on him for so long.
Liu's future perhaps will not necessarily involve an extended stint at the helm of EasyCard Corp., but he always charts his own course in financial circles.
Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy