Turning over a new leaf
Robert Wu Ching-yu, founder and chairman of Taiwan’s Eslite Corporation – known mainly for its chain of bookstores – realises there are many things in life that are beyond his control.
The highly successful businessman, who built up a large fortune in his 30s, was forced to seek new meaning in life following health problems. His aim now is to make the most of his life by living happily and gratefully.
What are Eslite’s core values?
Eslite in Chinese is comprised of two characters: 誠 (shing) and 品 (pin). The first speaks of sincerity and commitment, while the second means an adherence to professionalism and making prudent choices.
In short, the name reflects the bookstore’s dedication to, and its pursuit of, a harmonious and fair society. Eslite defines a member of the “elite” as “anyone who makes the best of the beauty in life”.
What makes the Eslite brand have such an impact?
We believe in the importance of the people of the city. Right from its very first day, Eslite has always aimed at bringing the humanities, arts and creativity into people’s daily lives – so it is the people themselves who are our focus.
Every city has its own special nature and geography; its mountains, rivers, oceans and people are formed by nature. Every store has a theme. For example, the store in Yilan, Taiwan, is inspired by mountains and fields. The store in Hong Kong serves as a harbour for the body, mind and soul in the pulsating hub of the city.
As Eslite continues to expand, every store becomes a landmark in its location. It keeps expanding the number of people it can serve and interact with.
What makes Eslite’s Hong Kong bookstore different?
A bookstore is where consumers spend money to buy books. Eslite is a place for humanity to reside.
Eslite is not just a bookstore. We are managing a cultural space, where a whole range of topics can be discussed, whether it’s architecture, music, theatre, dance, film, cooking or gardening – every aspect of modern life. Eslite Causeway Bay should evolve through a joint effort by the store and the community to reflect the uniqueness of Hong Kong.
Why did you decide to first open a bookstore?
Prior to opening Eslite, I had a successful food and catering business, but in 1989, inspired by reading and books, I reconsidered my own direction in life. I asked myself: “If I could start my life all over again, what would I want to be? Where would I want to take my life?”
I have always believed that books are the greatest human creation. Although I did not know anything about the publishing industry, I decided to open Eslite. During the first 15 years, I recorded nothing but losses, but that did not matter. Eslite is not a business – it is a unique creation by the collaborative effort of people who are passionate about living and reading, and who are generous in sharing their knowledge and creativity.
What is your advice to the young on living a fruitful life?
I was born with a heart problem. Heaven gave me a lot of wealth but, at the same time, a heart condition. When I was lying in a hospital bed, I began to conceive the idea that heaven had given me this health problem because then maybe there would be one less person in the world suffering from it.
If I had not been ill, I would not have learned how not to take things for granted, or to think positively and not blame anything or anyone any more. I have learned that I should be grateful for my existence.
By thinking positively, I began to realise that hardships in life should be a challenge that one should face positively. When facing obstacles, don’t back down. You should see obstacles as chances for personal growth. Face them, tackle them and be positive. Do not lose out on opportunities when they appear. What you want is up to you to decide, but whether you get it is up to heaven.
What are your future plans for Eslite?
Hong Kong will serve as an entry point to mainland China. I plan to open a store in Suzhou in 2014. It will not only be a bookstore but will also include theatre, a multimedia room, a tea room, restaurants and a boutique.
In 2013, I will open a new store at the Songshan Creative and Cultural Park in Taipei, which will be a bookstore with a keen focus on design, creativity and tea culture. There will be a concert hall, a hotel, a cultural square, a cinema, an exhibition hall and a rooftop patio. It will cover 20,000 square metres.