Tech entrepreneur Chi Yufeng sees opportunity in every situation

Business leader comfortable hitting the books or pursuing new ventures

Mr Chi Yufeng is founder and chairman of Perfect World, a leading online game developer and operator based in China.
Mr Chi Yufeng is founder and chairman of Perfect World, a leading online game developer and operator based in China.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

WITH a couple of successful firms under his belt, you would think that entrepreneur Chi Yufeng has little to learn about business.

But the 42-year-old is happy to be hitting the books at university here.

Mr Chi is among the Chinese entrepreneurs who have taken classes at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School.

He came to Singapore in April as a Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) student from Beijing's Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB).

Some of his schoolmates included Mr Wang Xiaochuan, chief executive officer of Web applications developer Beijing Sogou Technology Development, and Mr Yu Dong, board chairman of film distributor Bona Film Group.

The DBA students learnt about Singapore's public and corporate governance, took classes in business management and visited enterprises such as Temasek Holdings.

CKGSB spokesman Tu Hua said its DBA programme enrols a number of China's business leaders who want to pursue further studies after achieving commercial success.

"Many did not study business before they started out, so they want to catch up as China's business environment becomes more competitive," she added.

Dr Liu Jing, associate dean for the DBA programme and professor of accounting at CKGSB, said: "We want to help students organise their existing ideas and generate new ones...

"A school environment provides an open and equal platform for an exchange of ideas, something the CEOs may not get at work."

Mr Chi, a second-year DBA student, shares the same view.

As part of the programme, he volunteered to mentor two Master of Business Administration students.

Mr Chi had majored in chemistry at Qinghua University, where he found his calling.

"I found chemistry to be rather rigid and systematic, while my personality belongs to the dynamic, whimsical sort," he said.

"Within my social circles, I tend to be the go-to person for advice. So I thought, if I could help people around me with their problems... I should do business in the future."

He managed an auto-news stand selling the China Daily newspaper on campus.

He also sold computers during an internship, and started educational software provider Beijing Hongen Education And Technology in 1996.

Hongen's products are tailored for children under eight and are used by more than four million children in China.

An employee's casual remark prompted Mr Chi to develop another core business.

He recalled: "Over time, the talents we hired got tired of working on educational software because they weren't exactly high-tech.

"One of them said he'd like to do games, so I said, 'All right, I'll support you.'"

In 2004, Mr Chi started Perfect World, which specialises in massively multiplayer online role-playing games.

They are exported to Europe, Asia and the United States via subsidiaries.

While Mr Chi was never a big fan of gaming, venturing into the industry did bring about some remarkable career highlights.

In 2006, when the Chinese TV series My Own Swordsman swelled in popularity, Perfect World developed a game based on the show.

It did the same for 2008 blockbuster Red Cliff, an award-winning movie by veteran Hong Kong director John Woo.

Mr Chi said he has never failed in his business ventures.

But in 2012, he was the subject of a tax probe and faced accusations of embezzlement after anonymous allegations were made.

He was cleared after an independent audit.

Mr Chi said: "I don't regard it as a low point in my career. It could very well be the highest point...

"The company functioned well, I had time to learn and there were plenty of growth opportunities ahead."

He hopes to innovate to expand Perfect World into developing mobile applications and online media sites.

Mr Chi believes striving for social efficiency is the most meaningful endeavour for an enterprise, but he also has ambitions waiting to be fulfilled.

"In the future, I would still like to create something.

"To me, if you didn't create something for the world, you will be forgotten, as history only remembers creations," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2015, with the headline 'Tech entrepreneur sees opportunity in every situation'. Subscribe