Executive Vice Chairman, Pacific Media Plc
Mr. Andre Koo is a member of Taiwan's Koo
family group, a leading family controlled conglomerate based in Taiwan. He is
also the Chairman of the Chailease Group, a leading financial services group in
Taiwan specialising in leasing businesses in Asia. Mr. Koo is a respected and
well-known business figure with a wealth of experience in the financial industry
in Greater China. He has also held senior positions with China Life Insurance
and Chinatrust Hotels. He received his Bachelor of Arts and MBA from New York
University, Stern School of Business.
Koo, has an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is
also a former fashion model,
The business of lending to small and
medium-size enterprises, a sector that has been hard hit by the worldwide
recession, has not had an easy go of it lately.
But discipline, integrity and passion for
managing employees can make the difference between surviving and not surviving
the storm, says Andre Koo, executive chairman of Taiwan's Financial One, which
specialises in such lending.
“The global financial crisis and economic
downturn have created difficulties in areas such as business growth and asset
quality," says Koo, 42. "But what I tell my employees is that this is
the time to learn from this environment, be driven by integrity and discipline,
and try to grow steadily. That's all I want.”
Mr Koo has managed Financial One, which makes
the bulk of its asset-backed loans and direct financing to small and medium-size
businesses in Taiwan, since 2003. Along with his father, Jeffrey Koo, chairman
of Chinatrust Financial Holding, one of Taiwan's largest financial services
groups, and another investor, he owns 66 per cent of the Singapore-listed
Last year, Financial One posted $US244.8
million ($300.8m) in operating income, but it reported a net loss of $US1.2
million on increased provision for its US portfolio, swinging from a net profit
of $US37.6 million in 2007. The firm, with total assets of $US2.73 billion as of
December 31, operates in Taiwan, China, the US, Thailand and Vietnam.
Financial One recently entered into a
partnership with Bank of China, one of the mainland's four big state-controlled
commercial banks, under which the Chinese bank will provide lines of credit to
small and medium-size enterprises in China through the Taiwanese firm, which
employs about 1600 people worldwide, including 100 on the mainland. Mr Koo says
the partnership was a natural step for the company, which focuses on
"serving its clients with passion".
"That's our slogan and that's why I
emphasise the well being of my employees. If I can't service my staff with
passion, how can they go out and service customers with passion?" he says.
"For me, everything boils down to the
people. It's important for a manager to understand his employees, to show that
you really care for them.
“Small gestures matter, like remembering
their birthdays, making sure they are happy at work. It isn't about squeezing
every penny out of your employees."
Mr Koo, whose family's fortune is among the
fifth largest in Taiwan, has a bachelor's degree and a master's in business
administration from New York University. During a visit to Singapore, he sat
down with Patricia Kowsmann for an interview, which has been edited.
WSJ: What was your first job and the biggest
lesson you learned from it?
Mr Koo: My first job was as an assistant
lending officer at the New York branch of Chinatrust Bank (a wholly owned
subsidiary of the Taiwan group), responsible for preparing credit applications
and appraising collateral. I learned from the job that extensive due diligence
on the borrowers and their collateral is critical to the lending business. There
is no shortcut to ensuring that you are making the appropriate credit decision.
WSJ: Who gave you the best business advice?
Mr Koo: My father told me to always treat my
colleagues with respect, keep up the teamwork spirit within the company and have
good communication with my staff.
WSJ: What advice would you give someone
starting out in your field?
Mr Koo: Don't be in a hurry to try to achieve
everything all at once. Spend the time to build good business fundamentals.
WSJ: Do you have a favourite business book?
Mr Koo: My favourite is Good to Great: Why
Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't, by Jim Collins. The book
helps me think outside of the daily operations and keep focus on sustaining the
core strength of my company, which is discipline. As a lender to small and
medium-size companies, we have comprehensive rules on credit review and have
developed a decision-making process to control our risk exposure; we make it
mandatory that all our credit officers follow the rules without compromise.
Findings in Good to Great show the importance of discipline to companies,
and I can attest personally to that.
WSJ: What are you reading now?
Mr Koo: I read the Harvard Business Review
regularly and now spend more time reading Chinese journals on the economy of
China and its financial industry. Chinese journals provide a unique analysis of
political and social aspects of some economic developments and government
WSJ: What's the one thing you wish every new
Mr Koo: I wish they knew that integrity is
the core value to have for working in the financial industry.
WSJ: In your industry, is there a difference between Asia and the rest of the
Mr Koo: Establishing trust is more important
in Asia than it is in the rest of the world. In most cases, you have to earn the
trust before you can do business. And it is mutual, because you are not supposed
to do business with people that you don't trust.
WSJ: What was the toughest decision you have
had to make as a manager?
Mr Koo: The toughest decision I made was to
push for the re-engineering of my company in 2000. At that time, we were already
a company with more than a 20-year history, and we were the dominant player in
our business. It was very difficult to convince a group of senior executives
that we needed re-engineering to overhaul the organisation, when the company was
still performing well.
WSJ: And the most satisfying decision?
Mr Koo: It was the same decision, to push the
company's re-engineering. By the time we completed (the overhaul), the company
had doubled its assets in four years and built an effective credit-review system
that helps us keep delinquency rates low in our lending business to smaller
WSJ: In your opinion, what are the three
prime attributes that a good manager should have?
Mr Koo: The most important is discipline.
Without discipline, there is no productivity. The second is integrity. Integrity
ensures the alignment of value and interest of the manager and the company. The
third is passion about the work that you do. Without passion, there is no
WSJ: What lessons have you learned from the
current global economic crisis?
Mr Koo: Be sure to always stay on top of
things that might hurt your company. Stay alert. Assess the business environment
with a grain of salt and don't be too
WALL ST. JOURNAL