“Don’t worry about what you cannot do, focus on what you can,” King F. Lai said. Former Bronx Science Student of the Class of 1978 and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Lai has built up a notable influence on the world of advertising, marketing, and management. With over thirty years of prodigious experience, Lai has altered the image of various establishments in a global context.
King Lai first discovered his hold in advertising when he began his job at BBDO New York in 1981. Lai then went onto work at Backer & Spielvogel, Ted Bates and Shearson Lehman Brothers. Not long after, Lai began to co-fund a marketing agency, The Marketing Partnership. He continued on to become CEO for multiple companies including Saatchi & Saatchi Taiwan, and Saatchi & Saatchi Great Wall, and NetEase.com. Recently, Lai has taken on the position as President of Asia Pacific at Initiative Worldwide. Under Lai’s guidance, the company has expanded its Asia network from just three offices to over forty worldwide.
On January 2, 2018, King F. Lai made his first return to Bronx Science since his graduation in 1978. Lai shared his high school senior yearbook with me. Looking back at his four years at Bronx Science, Lai conveyed his appreciation for his past. “Going through this book, I can see some of these things for the first time that some of my classmates actually participated in that I don’t think I was even aware of. So I didn’t do enough discovery of what some of the possibilities were when I was in school. So that’s why I’m making the point that if I were to do it again, I would be even more in the moment of what the opportunities are,” Lai said.
At the University of Pennsylvania, Lai majored in English Literature. From this, he found a connection between science and advertising, between “bridging the qualitative with the quantitative.” Lai explained that if you could model or demonstrate a consistent pattern, then you will be able to replicate it in terms of marketing.
I didn’t do enough discovery of what some of the possibilities were when I was in school. So that’s why I’m making the point that if I were to do it again, I would be even more in the moment of what the opportunities are.
When I inquired about Lai’s background and culture, he explained to me that some of the most beneficial aspects in the advertising and marketing industry was his Asian background. Lai relayed the importance of having a global impact, but at the same time, he stressed the significance of operating locally when you are present in countries around the world.
“Now a huge part of that globalization of course during the last twenty four years is into Asia. And the fact that I’m Asian and I live in the States, educated in the U.S., and having passable language skills is what helped bridge a lot of the needs between understanding what corporate requirements are and what local cultural needs are, and making that bridge and making the work that we do in advertising more effective,” Lai said.
I was excited to hear Lai share his future plans and endeavors. He revealed how he plans to start a hydroponics business to grow plants in water using a technique called aeroponics, which involves misting nutrients, spraying the roots that are hanging up in the air. Lai enthusiastically added, “The great thing about aeroponics or hydroponics is nutrients in water is all you need to grow plants. We can grow food close to consumption, so that would reduce the carbon footprint of transport. And you can grow plants all year round, if you’re growing them indoors.”
With the conclusion of the interview, King Lai offered one of the most valuable lessons that he learned while at Bronx Science. “I never really felt like I appreciated my time when I was at Science. You always feel like you are in the moment, when you’re with your friends had you’re having a great time…The amount of opportunities and experiences that are available that I remember after [that] I didn’t take advantage of saddens me…So being much more in the moment and taking advantage of all the experiences is the greatest advice that I can give,” Lai said.
King Lai’s influence on the advertising industry will continue to reverberate through the halls of Bronx Science.