First prize for the most disgusting lobby in Hong Kong must go to the bright pink and yellow monstrosity on the fourth floor of Asia Television's head offices. The lobby is to quiet understatement what Pavarotti is to long distance running. It was a relief just to get out of it. Suitably unimpressed, visitors will then be introduced to ATV's boardroom, which is lined with photographs of the company's ageing senior management surrounded by pretty girls in short skirts wearing the kind of smiles that say: 'One day this will have been worth it.' Or perhaps I should have said photographs of the former senior management. I wasn't waiting in this multi-coloured modern day version of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory for some octogenarian from the photo to shuffle in. Instead, I was to meet Bruno Wu, 32 year's old, newly appointed chief operating officer of ATV, sacking people left, right and centre and - if the local press are to believed - almost completely spherical in shape. In their subtle way, the gossip magazines in Hong Kong refer to Mr Wu as 'lucky fat boy'. When he walked in, there was no way for me to tell if he was lucky or not, but it was apparent that this Willy Wonka had been eating a few too much of his factory's output. Some people carry size and some do not, and Mr Wu carries his well. He looks like he was born to be bigger, in the sense that you could not imagine him slim, and his energy seems undiminished by the responsibilities of hauling his frame around in the middle of a 35-degree Hong Kong summer. It is probably a good thing Mr Wu has plenty of padding as he has come in for quite a beating of late. He did not so much enter the Hong Kong scene as arrive in it with the subtlety and panache of a bowling ball arriving on ten pins, fronting a controversial mainland consortium that bought a controlling stake in ATV. This - it was said - was the consortium that was going to shake up ATV, give its viewers what they wanted, put creativity ahead of ratings, break the hegemony of TVB, and - if the prayers of thousands of viewers were to be answered - employ some weather girls who can read the forecast without sounding like Rainman trying to explain quantum mechanics. But to others, this was the consortium that represented an effective mainland takeover of a Hong Kong media outlet just 12 months after the handover. Strenuous denials of any such thing have been part of parcel of ATV's existence ever since, but critics keep coming back to the facts - which are these. A company called Dragon Viceroy will control 46 per cent of ATV. Dragon Viceroy counts among its shareholders Liu Changle, chairman of the Phoenix satellite channel, former People's Liberation Army officer and with 'close links' to the Central Military Commission. Another shareholder is Feng Xiaopeng, a property developer who also works for Yu Xiu Enterprises, the locally listed arm of the Guangzhou Municipal Government. The new ATV chairman is Wong Po-yan, who has a 5 per cent stake in the company and fills his spare time as a deputy at the National People's Congress. So, are these mainland politicos determined to make sure ATV broadcasts the news according to Beijing in all its glorious greyness, or entrepreneurs buying a company on the cheap? No prizes for guessing Mr Wu's answer. 'These are certainly people with good mainland connections, but I am a citizen of the US and I am very proud of it. Being somebody with good mainland connections does not mean that this person has to be standing for everything that people perceive the mainland Government stands for. Being a good friend to the mainland does not mean that you have to be an enemy to democracy or to freedom of speech. 'Do I agree with everything the mainland Government does - absolutely not. 'Do I necessarily agree with the way China issues are being handled by the US Government - not everything. 'They have convinced me there is no political agenda, they just want to make money. I am in this position because I will fight for the betterment of ATV. As for the future, people will have to wait and see, but under this management freedom of information will be preserved and we will do everything we can to make ATV a better investment.' Which should not be difficult. ATV has been a disastrous investment for most of the past 10 years under the rule of former chairman Lim Por-yen, who is the guest of the authorities in Taiwan charged with bribery. Mr Lim previously held 51 per cent of ATV, but was forced to sell just under 35 per cent to the new consortium to help pay off debts accrued by his property company, Lai Sun Development. There was also the small matter of the public relations problems presented by having a chairman on trial for bribery. Rather than bow out gracefully, Mr Lim has been ranting and raving from Taiwan. He was given the title Honorary Permanent Chairman in an attempt to shut him up, but instead it seemed to inflame him further. He has described Mr Wu as 'too young and too American'. He has also, according to sources, been in touch with senior members of ATV's staff spreading discontent and undermining the present management. It was with deliberate restraint that Mr Wu answered questions about Mr Lim and there was little doubt that this was a touchy subject. Respect for one's elders - a tenet of corporate life in Hong Kong - was obviously under a bit of pressure in this particular relationship. 'Well, I would like to regard him as an asset as I believe a man who is 32 year's old can certainly learn a lot from a man who is 85 year's old. My answer to him is: You had 10 years running this company and we have seen the results. Give me two years to see if we can improve the performance. When I came here ATV lost $130 million in the first six months, and we are well on track to losing an additional $220 million in the next six months - so the projected loss for the year is $350 million. 'What I can tell Mr Lim is that - I can promise one thing - since he took over the company's performance has been in free fall. How about if I make the P&L curve - so it becomes like a rocket. If this happens he should be happy as he is a shareholder. On the one hand he is 85 year's old and I have tremendous respect for him - wisdom, age experience, but on the other . . .' he left the sentence unfinished. He continued: 'I'm saying please give a 32-year-old a chance.' The more than 300 people sacked by Mr Wu since he arrived at ATV must have wanted a chance too - but they didn't get one. Mr Wu has been determined to cut costs since he took over and like many managers unable to increase revenues easily, he turned to the staff for the savings. 'I am just trying to do a good job. The dirty job has to be done by somebody. As captain of the boat for the moment I have no choice but to be tough.' So what brought this 32-year-old into the position where he is hob-nobbing with mainland apparatchiks, fronting a highly controversial media takeover in Hong Kong, sparring publicly with the former chairman and espousing an management philosophy that makes Sun Tzu look like Cinderella? He grew up in Shanghai in poverty. His grandfather - Woo Kai-seng - had been Minister for Foreign Affairs for Chiang Kai Shek and his Ambassador to the League of Nations, which did not go down too well come the Revolution. The family was 'confined to live in very small quarters' and on collective wages of 50 yuan (about HK$46) a month had to stay alive and support the now imprisoned grandfather. But it was his grandfather - who had travelled the world, spoke seven languages, met the most important people of the time and saw life outside the mainland - who inspired Mr Wu to broaden his boundaries and get out of revolutionary China. 'I would spend a lot of time with my grandpa, giving me these fantasies about this foreign world and how life was overseas. At the time we had no money and eating meat was a luxury. He was telling me how in Western countries they had big steaks. He would describe the diplomatic courses and food, the dresses they were wearing.' Suitably motivated by these images, Mr Wu applied himself to his studies, where - he says with candour - he was exceptional. 'In high school I became a very hard working student. I won prizes, awards. I won a lot of awards, I was a very good student, I went to the number one high school in Shanghai, and became the number one student in that high school. I got entry to university without an examination. During the high school years I won many awards in many different areas - from sports to photography. My biggest was the first prize in national Chinese composition competition.' In case you missed it, he won many awards. Having initially tried to continue his education in the US, he instead ended up in France, which his grandfather had told him was by far the better option as Europe would give him access to 'real' Western culture whereas the US would not. 'I was excited to have left China, curious and excited. I had a feeling of a bird flying away from a cage. In 1985 my family was still living in same quarters. France taught me another side of life. One day I was invited out skiing. I got to the top of the mountain and saw how beautiful it was. I thought this is what life is really about.' Having seen what he wanted he then set about getting it. He left France in 1988 to study in the US, ending up in Northern Missouri at a college called Coveur Stockton, primarily because it was the only place that offered him a full scholarship. After graduating in 1989 - he started selling life insurance and other financial products before setting up his own consultancy advising US companies on doing business in China. 'In 1993, I started to focus on the media relations information area. My advisory work has covered nearly every aspect of the business from media research to production to programme syndication. I became quite successful - on the production side I produced two news segments for CBS Primetime News - very prestigious. I co-produced a 48-hour special called Class of 2000 with my wife as host. I have worked with Pulitzer winners. I have produced programmes that were vastly successful for the China market.' So how did he end up bumping into the men from the mainland who now own ATV? 'Oh, through business acquaintances.' No further details were forthcoming. Modesty may not be Mr Wu's strong point but he is by any measure a high achiever, and the ability to sell yourself strong and hard can sometimes be an essential element of achievement. Mr Lim's description of him as 'too young and too American' makes sense when he is full flow, but Mr Wu is saved from coming across as a cocky upstart by the fact that he admits he is being brash and argues that this is his main strength rather than a weakness. ATV, he says, could do with some brashness. But make no mistake. Mr Wu will not be content walking out of the lift into ATV's foul lobby for long. He is in it for the cash. 'I have a 3 per cent stake. If the company becomes profitable . . .' here he started laughing. He began again: 'In 1997 ATV was valued at $5.4 billion. I think it is safe to reach a $6 billion valuation. It means for me $200 million.' Is money the motivating force of his life? Did his grandfather's tales of overseas wealth translate into avarice? 'I feel there is a certain level of philosophical social responsibility that I want to tackle, which is to help to foster a more open mind of people across the border. I feel money should not be the only motivation. We should have this responsibility to do something that is good, good for people's souls, not just profit.' At this point the conversation was becoming as garish and sickly sweet as the lobby, and I was starting to hope he would just admit it and state outright it was the money he was after. He did not, but it did not take long to find out where this man's mind was really going. 'I think I am going to be continuously involved in the media, meaning that I would like to build a conglomerate - a sort of News Corporation or Time Warner of the Orient. It's hard to imagine that the Greater China region would not have a cross border media company that could provide a gateway for the exchange of cultures. This is something I would be willing to devote myself to.' Are these the dreams of a 32-year-old who is riding high on his own success or the plans of an Asian media mogul in the making? ATV will be his testing ground. Bruno Wu grew up in Shanghai but left revolutionary China to study in the United States and France after finding inspiration from his worldly wise grandfather Woo Kai-seng who had been Minister for Foreign Affairs for Chiang Kai Shek. He left France in 1988 to study in the US, ending up in Northern Missouri and after graduating in 1989 started selling life insurance and other financial products before setting up his own consultancy advising US companies on doing business in China.