Secrets of Success: SCMP’s CEO Gary Liu says there's always more to learn

Our down-to-earth CEO tells Young Post why in the digital information age, it’s more important than ever to be curious, seek out the truth, and listen before you speak

Nicola Chan |

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Gary tells YP readers to try new experiences and search for new things.

There seems to be no stopping Gary Liu. While everyone else his age was still figuring out how to boil an egg and use an iron, Liu somehow managed to graduate from Harvard, become the CEO of Digg, a New York-based news aggregator, and then head Spotify Labs, where he led emerging technologies and developed business strategies for the digital music service provider.

Now he’s Chief Executive Officer of our very own South China Morning Post, and he has no plans to slow down. Despite his achievements, Liu still feels he has a lot to learn, and insists that he’s had his fair share of career setbacks, too.

Young Post sat down with the big boss to find out what success means to him.

“I think of success as impact,” he said. “The most important type of impact is the kind you make with or around the people you’re surrounded with.”

“I haven’t achieved success yet, but I certainly hope to progress while I’m here at SCMP,” he added.

In the age of fake news, Liu still puts his faith in truth, and it’s his goal to make sure as many people as possible have access to it and understand it. In his capacity as CEO of SCMP, that means broadening people’s understanding of China and the news in general.

If more people learned about what truth really means, “the world would be a better place”, he said.

That time our CEO was quiz master for our Mixed Bag trivia challenge

While he’s been taking on leadership roles from a young age, Liu admits he has been guilty in the past of running before he could walk – resulting on one particular occasion in “a spectacular moment of failure”. In a previous job, he was invited to attend a senior-level meeting involving a very important client, where his role was simply to listen, learn and later come up with ideas. Yet he couldn’t stop himself from speaking up during the meeting.

“I started pointing out the mistakes that I saw. I started giving suggestions for the solutions that we could build together,” he recalled, adding that he had never had any intentions of listening and learning.

“It doesn’t really matter whether or not my opinions were right at that point. It’s that I was not humble enough to just listen and learn,” he reflected.

The consequence was that it “put that business relationship [with the client] at very serious risk”.

“Somebody else had to come in and recover for me. I had to build up trust with my colleagues from zero again, because in one moment I lost all of their trust.”

It was a lesson learned the hard way, but an extremely valuable one: “It is always more worthwhile to listen.”

If he were to share any words of wisdom with YP readers, it would simply be to “slow down”. This may seem counter-intuitive in our fast-paced digital age, but that, argued Liu, is why it’s important.

“Because information is always available to us now, and the internet has trained us to have very short attention spans, we have sped up.”

The side-effect of this, he explained, is that we also “now jump to conclusions too fast”.

“We now think that reading a couple of lines in Wikipedia means we know everything about a subject matter,” he added.

Yet while on one hand Liu reinforces the importance of “pushing back the harm of the internet”, he also believes we should “take advantage of the good”. We now have “all the information in the world” at our fingertips; there has never been more incentive or opportunity to “be curious”.

All gifs via GIPHY

“Search for new things. Try new experiences. It will open up your mind to all of the goodness that exists in the world,” encouraged Liu.

The ubiquity of knowledge, he added, means “there’s no excuse for somebody to pretend that they know it all”.

“Don’t walk into a situation thinking that you’re the smartest person in the room,” said Liu — and we now know he’s speaking from experience.

“Instead, take your time to formulate the right answers, because these will always be the better ones.”

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge