TYCOONS are always blessed with nick-names and unsolicited titles. Tiong Hiew King, who has made his name in Hong Kong as the soon-to-be owner of Ming Pao Enterprise, is no exception. Informal titles such as 'Timber King' and 'King of Sibu' refer to his thriving timber business in the second largest town in Sarawak, eastern Malaysia. He may yet become known in Hong Kong as the 'white knight' who took over Ming Pao from its cash-strapped majority shareholder, CIM. The rescue closely resembles the ultimately successful last-minute bid he made to save the Sin Chew Jit Poh Chinese newspaper in Malaysia. Many Chinese there felt he helped preserve a valuable part of Chinese culture. Coming from a large family from Fuzhou and arriving in Malaysia as migrant labour, Mr Tiong displays the usual Chinese shyness of the media. His company, Rimbunan Hijau Group, also shows the typical Chinese entrepreneurial style of being managed mostly by his family members. Four of the seven board directors are Mr Tiong's brothers. Another director, Law Cheng King, is Tiong's brother-in-law, while the remaining board member, Chay Tai Cheong, is a close family friend. The diversification from timber is attributed to the fact that the tycoon nearly went under in the mid-1980s. Having learnt a valuable lesson, the company steered towards newspapers, tyre retreading, insurance, shipping, mining and property development, however, timber-related activities still account for 70 per cent of its turnover. Whether or not the low-profile tycoon considers newspaper publishing a downstream operation from timber production is not known, but his company has managed to acquire three newspapers - two Chinese dailies in Malaysia and an English one in Papua New Guinea. His success and entrepreneurial spirit have won him admiration and enmity. Not surprisingly, Mr Tiong is not particularly liked by the environmentalists who accuse his company of engaging in wanton destruction of forests without due regard to reforestation and the environment. Analysts in Malaysia say Mr Tiong is gradually building himself up as a major player in the nation's print media. There is widespread belief that his efforts to control several newspapers are intended to deflect some of the adverse publicity surrounding his logging activities. Whatever his motives are, his timber interests will soon help him fight, if not completely avoid, the soaring cost of newsprint. The company is teaming up with the country's largest publishing groups, the New Straits Times Press and the Hong Leong Group, to set up a paper mill to manufacture newsprint.