New HMV owner sets his ambitions beyond music

After buying British chain's HK stores, Kelvin Wu plans to expand into the mainland, while providing cultural products besides CDs and DVDs

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 12:11pm

The new owner of the Hong Kong and Singapore outlets of the iconic British music retail chain HMV has two targets: to acquire more local rivals and to compete with Apple's iTunes store on the internet.

For many people, such plans may look too ambitious. But for Kelvin Wu, the HMV stores' new owner through AID Partners' investments, the goals are just more missions to be accomplished within a certain period. They are the latest goals he has set out to achieve since he emigrated to Hong Kong as a child with almost nothing.

Wu, 43, is a principal partner of AID Partners, which is partly funded by legendary US investor Hank Greenberg, a former chairman of American International Group.

Wu moved to Hong Kong with his family at the age of 10 from a small mainland city, and since then he has made Hong Kong his home.

"When we first moved to Hong Kong, we lived in some slums in Kwun Tong. I knew I must study very hard and I am proud to say I didn't spend any of my parents' money since I graduated from university," Wu said in an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post.

He was speaking after his firm announced earlier this month that it had acquired HMV's businesses in Hong Kong and Singapore and obtained the right to expand HMV into the mainland.

"I believe education is the most important thing in the world. It can change everything," said Wu, who was a top graduate of Ying Wa College before he was admitted to the Chinese University of Hong Kong and later won a government scholarship to study in Japan.

Education was the only way someone like himself from an ordinary family could make a difference, he said, and he believes that remains the case today.

Part of the reason why Wu acquired the Hong Kong and Singapore parts of HMV was that he believes the chain can be more than just a music store. He sees HMV becoming a platform to provide customers, in particular the younger generation, with products related to culture and music-related items besides CDs and DVDs.

"We want to do something more innovative. Otherwise, everybody knows the music retail business alone is tough. It's even tougher than making movies these days," said Wu, adding that HMV could partner with artists to host live concerts on the mainland or to open bars and restaurant as Hard Rock Cafes had done globally.

He also has high hopes for the internet improving HMV's business model, which has so far relied a lot on its stores amid pressure from rents.

"To be online is not just to put something online, and it's more than downloading," he said, adding that he planned to revamp HMV's online business to compete with the likes of iTunes.

HMV has six stores in Hong Kong. Wu said he had no plan to close any of them and might add more through mergers and acquisitions with local firms.

Hong Kong Records and CD Warehouse are two major rivals of HMV in Hong Kong.

Regarding HMV's plan to expand to the mainland, Wu said he was looking to open shops first in top-tier cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.