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Interview with Karl C.K. Ma (Abridged)

During the 2017 Pan-Asia Alumni Reunion, Debing Su of Michigan News interviewed Ma about his experience at the University of Michigan and his continued support.

Q: How did you become the chairman of TUS-International?

I graduated from Michigan’s business school before studying financial engineering at London Business School. I went back to Hong Kong to work at Credit Suisse in 2000.

At that time, I saw Chinese companies were growing rapidly.

I felt I could do more than work at a bank- there was so much beyond the financial models I ran daily on my trading desktop computer. I always wanted to do things outside of the box. So I quit and started my own companies one after the other in the Pearl River Delta at Guangdong province. I worked very hard to partner with Chinese State-owned enterprises (SOE). All of these businesses failed.

During that time, Premier Zhu Rongji announced the reform of state-owned enterprises.

I went to Beijing and met Mr. Wang Jiwu, who is now chairman of TUS-Holding, but at that time he was assistant to the president of Beijing Enterprises Group, the first SOE that went public in the Hong Kong stock market. Having been in the SOE for a long time, he had lots of insider’s knowledge to share and teach, and I was responsible for raising capital and business relationship, using my networks and skills.

Land is probably the most valuable asset for SOEs, so I went into the real estate development business and later did several projects with Tsinghua University Science Park together to build physical space for research and startups. When our company grew big enough, we became a shareholder of the Tsinghua University Science Park and continued to focus on technology incubation. For example, TUS-International is a listed company in HK started by us with a strong focus on smart mobility and infrastructure.

Q: How do you describe yourself?

First I would say I am an entrepreneur, focusing on transformation and restructuring of traditional companies.

Second, I am a bridge builder between Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. I am very passionate about innovation and entrepreneurship. I set up Hong Kong’s largest co-work space for start-ups and creators in the city, bringing together young people from mainland China, Hong Kong and overseas. The co-work space itself doesn’t make money, but I am investing in people and their future achievements.

Q: Why did you want to set up this scholarship?

First of all, it is a family tradition starting from my grandpa. He set up charity Chinese medicine clinics in Macau, giving away free Chinese medicine to the poor. He also supported philanthropy in Mainland China. Helping people out is great, but I want to do it in a different way. Times have changed. We need new models, talents across multiple disciplines, and a new way of doing philanthropy.

This scholarship is to help students from Asia who want to pursue public service careers. I think those who choose this path are very admirable. These are not high paying majors.

There is no shortage of smart people in finance and engineering now. A healthy and balanced society not only needs businessmen and engineers, it also needs nurses, social workers and research of the macro social policies. With this scholarship, I hope to attract and retain talents in these fields.

Q: What did you learn during your time at Michigan?

It was the most carefree time in my life. There was so much to learn. So many resources to draw on. I made great friends. It was the most amazing time in my life.

Q: What did you learn after you left U-M?

Teamwork. No matter what you do, you can’t achieve success alone. It takes a team to do it.

Q: What’s your next plan?

I will continue my contributions to the company, the society and my country. I enjoy my work very much.

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