The chances are that only a handful of the top business people outside China willknow the name Li Ruigang. They soon will because as President of Shainghai Media Group he is becoming a serious player in the entertainment business.
Mr Li began his career as a TV reporter and documentary producer, but got the taste for big business during student visits to the US a few years ago, making it his mission to meet media executives in New York and get to know the inner workings of communications regulators.
Returning home he got a job in local government and became an adviser to the deputy mayor of Shanghai, responsible for media.
In 2002 Li Ruigang was named president of SMG and soon set about introudcing a simple strategy that has since turned the company into China’s second largest media conglomerate. He brought together as much content as possible and distributes it across as many technologies as possible – in turn, this means he is constantly wheeling and dealing with foreign companies which eye the huge financial rewards of the Chinese market.
According to the New York Times, MTV Networks, VNU, CNBC, Sony, Universal Music Group, Discovery Communications and the National Basketball Association are just some of the companies that are in business with SMG. Typical of the deals is his partnership with Viacom which includes the co-hosting of MTV Asia’s annual Style Awards; to co-produce children’s programming with MTV Nickelodeon channel: and to syndicate various MTV Networks programme through SMG’s 13 over-the-air television channels and 17 national digital TV channels.
What sort of person is Li Ruigang?
He makes no secret of his love for partners. “if you have a hundred partners then you can learn a hundred different things from them” he reportedly told an office meeting recently.
Says Sumner M Redstone, chairman of Viacom: “Li is clearly a pioneer in bringing innovative partnerships to the Chinese people”.
“He’s very commercially driven” says Wei Zhang, the chief operating officer of Sar China, a subsidiary of the News Corporation, who in a previous job, set up one of Mr Li’s first foreign joint ventures.
On the other hand, it is hard to recognise him as a civil serant given the task of preserving a “state asset”, as he calls the company. He is charged with making SMG competitive with foreign media that can increasingly reach Chinese homes in many different ways and last November the company obtained China’s first license to launch Internet TV (IPTV) in Shainghai.
He ended 2005 on a high note when the Chinese Variety magazine named him “Showman of the Year” in recognition of the fact that “the path he and SMG have gone through reflects the learning curve of the professionals in Chinese media and entertainment business”.
2006 looks set to become another big year for Mr Li.