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5 Questions with Li & Fung President

Bruce Rockowitz, president of Li & Fung, the world's largest supplier of goods to U.S. retailers like Wal-Mart, shares his thoughts on the lessons learned during the Asian Financial Crisis and why China should not be feared.

1. How did you get started in this business?

I got started when I co-founded Colby in 1981, not long after coming to Hong Kong as a 19-year-old.

Bruce Rockowitz, president of Li & Fung
Copyright: Gafencu
Bruce Rockowitz, president of Li & Fung

I then joined Li & Fung after the acquisition. So really, I have only had this one job for the past 30 years … being the president of an export trading and supply chain management company.

2. What was the biggest victory in your career?

It happened when I was with Colby and we secured Kohl’s as a customer. This was back when we were competing with Li & Fung. As a result, Li & Fung had to buy Colby and take its management too. That was really a deal of a lifetime. Today, Kohl’s is still one of Li & Fung’s key customers.

3. What's the best investment you've ever made?

The airline ticket to Hong Kong from New York City that I bought in 1979. The ticket cost US$800, which was all the money I had at the time. I had earned it from playing at pro tennis tournaments and working as a summer coach. This ticket took me to a whole new world of opportunities that I’d never seen in the U.S. and Canada.

4. What lessons did you learn during the Asian Financial Crisis that can be applied today?

The market is all about confidence. Once confidence disappears, no government can easily bring it back. When confidence is there, it solves many of the world’s problems.

When investors lost their confidence in Asian economies in 1997, the region faced a major crisis. One of the big differences in the recent crisis is that Asia, especially China, was not as badly affected because it still had confidence. Confidence has been improving in general over the last two years, which can be seen in the fact that people are buying again.

5. Do you see China as a threat or a catalyst to growth in your business?

China is the biggest catalyst for growth, not only on the supply side but also on the consumption side. China has handled the recent financial crisis with great skill and is keeping economic growth going. I see the growth of China as a positive thing, not only for China, but also for the region, the world, and of course, for our business. We never view China with any fear.

Bruce Rockowitz is the President of Li & Fung (Trading) Ltd. He has also been executive director of Li & Fung Limited since 2001. In December 2008, Rockowitz was ranked first by Institutional Investor for Asia’s Best CEOs in the consumer category. In March 2010, he was ranked as one of the world’s 30 best CEOs by Barron’s. He is also the Non-executive Chairman of the Pure Group and an independent non-executive Director of Wynn Macau, Limited.

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Watch Bruce Rockowitz's Past Interviews on CNBC:

  • Asia No Longer Just the World's Workshop
  • Slow Recovery in US Job Market
  • Is China Too Expensive for Walmart?

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