Wanna Be Like Li?
Li Ning Sports Goods, China's largest athletic-shoe and apparel company, built brand awareness the same way Nike did--by getting a revered athlete to hawk its products. But while Nike had to hand over millions in endorsement fees to basketball superstar Michael Jordan, Li Ning Sports Goods just put its eponymous chief executive in front of the cameras. Li Ning, a former gymnast, won the hearts of millions of Chinese when he took six medals--three of them gold--at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Since he founded his company in 1988, Li, 39, has doubled as its spokesman, and he is largely credited for a 32% annual average growth that makes the firm a credible challenger in China to Nike, Adidas and Reebok. Li Ning Sports, which has more than 1,000 specialty shops, grossed $108 million in sales last year. So it might be surprising that Li will no longer appear in ads for the company's goods, which bear a logo that looks like Nike's swoosh with a foxtail attached. Li says the affluent Chinese he is now targeting are too young to remember his feats on the pommel horse. "I wish I were as popular as I used to be," Li says with a sigh. It's a fate Jordan, 39, has also suffered. Sales of the Air Jordan are down this year.
--Hey, Aren't These Our Parts?
China has long had a reputation for disregarding copyrights on music and movies, which are openly peddled on bootleg discs in Chinese cities. But foreign industrial companies doing business in China also have to be diligent about protecting their branded products, as Volkswagen was reminded when some of its parts turned up in the Chery, a popular Chinese-made car. The Chery is part-owned by the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., which has a partnership with VW to assemble and market popular cars like the Polo and the Jetta. (SAIC says it bought the VW parts on the open market.)
"Express Kidnapping" is the latest innovation among criminal gangs in Latin America who want to net the most cash in the least time. Here's how it works: criminals accost a well-dressed executive late at night in his car or as he emerges from an upscale restaurant. The victim is escorted at gunpoint to an ATM, where he is forced to make the maximum daily withdrawal--generally between $1,000 and $2,000. The kidnappers sometimes wait and force the victim to make another maximum daily withdrawal after the clock turns over, usually at midnight. A victim who doesn't resist usually isn't hurt and is dropped off in a remote location, often only half an hour or so after he was first grabbed. --By David Robinson
UPDATE --SHIPBUILDING WOES