Lee Peng Fei, Allen

Biography Highlights Records
Family and Education Background
Lee Peng Fei was born in Yantai in 1940. His native place was Shandong. His parents had four children. To evade war, Lee followed his family and moved to Shanghai. In 1948, his father left for America and became a merchant there in order to escape from the Chinese Communist rule. Since a little child, Lee had led an independent life and did not know much about his absent father because they seldom stayed together. Lee knew that his father had married several times, which made him feel rather uneasy. After relocating from Shanghai to Hong Kong, Lee attended and graduated from Pui Ying Secondary School. Since Pui Ying was a Chinese school, Lee was not well-versed in English language.

After graduation, he had planned to continue his studies at National Taiwan University but his father intended him to go to the US instead. Lee thought it was a life-changing transition and that his father had made the right decision. Six months after his arrival in the States, Lee began learning English in Dayton, Ohio. To accelerate his progress, he tried not to interact with the local Chinese community. He also joined a fraternity to know more about the local culture so that he could blend into main-stream American life. He later enrolled in the University of Michigan and decided to specialize in Electronics, considering that he was good at maths and that the American electronic industry was on the rise during those days. Lee recalled that the electronic industry was still in an infant stage in the early 1960s, with the most prominent sector being the Vacuum Tube Technology. The computer facility at the University of Michigan’s computer laboratory was of the IBM model1620. Lee thought this machine was not user friendly.


Title Family and Education Background
Date 04/10/2010
Subject Industry
Duration 3m57s
Language Cantonese
Material Type
Collection
Repository Hong Kong Memory Project
Note to Copyright Copyright owned by Hong Kong Memory Project
Accession No. LKF-LPF-SEG-001
Worked in Lockheed Aircraft in 1960s (1), American Investment and origin of Hong Kong Electronics...
After graduated from university, Lee was employed by Lockheed Aircraft’s Electronics Department in California. The department manager was Ross Wilson. , Having been away in the US for many years, Lee returned to Hong Kong in 1966 to see his mother. His return coincided with Ross Wilson’s appointment as Lockheed’s representative to open a branch factory in Hong Kong. Due to a shortage of talented manpower, Lee was invited to serve as the factory’s Test Engineer and Training Engineer in 1966. The branch factory produced core memory systems and hired female workers to assemble magnetic loops. The process was also informally known as “putting beads into a string” (literally to describe the work of assembling magnetic loops). Each worker would undergo three months’ on-the-job training that involved assembling microscopes. The factory was located on How Ming Street in Kwun Tong and operated 12 hours daily.

As an American company, Lockheed offered a comfortable working environment with air-conditioning, and therefore recruitment was met with a large number of enthusiastic job applications. The daily wage for each female worker was HK$4.8 and the competition amongst factories for available candidates was quite keen. During the 1960s, there were four major American transnational companies in Hong Kong that produced core memory systems: Fibretech, Test Devices, Lockheed and Ampex. Ampex was the largest of the four, with 3,800 employees working for three shifts a day. Lockheed, on the other hand, had a workforce of 1,500. The four factories produced similar products and their managers were well acquainted with each other. With Ross Wilson’s return to the US in 1967 to report on his work, Lee was promoted to the rank of Test Engineering Manager.

In 1970, Lee moved on to work for Ampex through a friend’s introduction. He was promised the prospect of promotion to General Manager after 2 years of satisfactory performance. Then in 1973/74, Lee became the first Chinese to have ever been appointed General Manager – a groundbreaking move at the time. Lee established a design department for Ampex and began to hire local electronic engineering talents who had returned from overseas education. This helped Hong Kong’s budding electronic industry train a sizeable number of engineers. Ampex’s major clients at the time included International Business Machine (IBM), Hewlett Packard (HP) and Litton Industry. Lee admitted that American companies were the powerhouse for Hong Kong’s electronic industry well until the end of the 20th century. In the 1960s, Hong Kong’s liberal environment and abundance of low-cost labour were the main attractions to American companies. Locally funded factories, as opposed to the American ones, were mostly venturesome in nature and mainly produced radios and calculators that required less advanced technologies and therefore had a poorer investment prospect as compared to the computer industry. The technology employed by the four factories producing core memory systems was imported from the US. The subsidiary companies in Hong Kong, while equipped with advanced machinery for massive production, were responsible for labour-intensive assembling work processes.


Title Worked in Lockheed Aircraft in 1960s (1), American Investment and origin of Hong Kong Electronics Industry
Date 04/10/2010
Subject Industry
Duration 10m43s
Language Cantonese
Material Type
Collection
Repository Hong Kong Memory Project
Note to Copyright Copyright owned by Hong Kong Memory Project
Accession No. LKF-LPF-SEG-002
Worked in Lockheed Aircraft in 1960s (2), Production process of computer's core memory system
At the time when he was hired as an engineer by Lockheed in Burbank, California, Lee had no plan to return to Hong Kong. When he eventually went home to visit his mother in 1966, he learnt that his manager at Lockheed had been appointed to go to Hong Kong to set up a branch factory for the company. He thus agreed to stay behind and work as the factory’s Test Engineer, focusing on product design. Being Test Engineer gave Lee the opportunity to apply his knowledge at work and to train new engineers. The factory’s testing room had the most advanced computers for testing the then top-notch memory systems. If a magnet loop failed, it could not transmit any signal. Hence the factory invested a great deal of manpower and time to maintain stringent testing standards. In total, the four American factories ( Fibretech, Test Devices, Lockheed, Ampex) had more than 10,000 employees. Lockheed’s branch in Hong Kong used to produce memory systems for rockets and satellites such as the one used in Litton Industry’s first rocket. The US Armed Forces also commissioned Lockheed to produce for their military projects. There were local and foreign-trained engineers working together in Lockheed’s testing room. Upon spotting a failed magnetic loop, the female workers outside the room would take it to repair. Engineers and female workers worked on a three-shift basis under a supervisor, all of whom were local Hong Kong people. The managers, unlike other employees, were Americans who typically stayed in Hong Kong for only one to three years. There were three ranks of engineers in American factories: Preliminary Engineer, Assistant Engineer, and Engineer. Promotion took place every five or six years. In the mid-1960s, Hong Kong’s university graduates were capable enough to work as engineers.


Title Worked in Lockheed Aircraft in 1960s (2), Production process of computer's core memory system
Date 04/10/2010
Subject Industry
Duration 7m8s
Language Cantonese
Material Type
Collection
Repository Hong Kong Memory Project
Note to Copyright Copyright owned by Hong Kong Memory Project
Accession No. LKF-LPF-SEG-003
Worked in Ampex in 1970s. Products and plants of Ampex
In 1970, Lee joined another company, Ampex, and helped it set up a factory in Asia. He had to travel to Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines and South Korea to inspect whether the countries was suitable for investment. The head office of Ampex finally ordered that the Asian factory be set up in Taiwan. Lee did not observe much difference in the level of electronic developments between Hong Kong and Taiwanin early 1970s. Although Taiwan’s development started later, it moved forward speedily. Their Minister of Finance, Li Kwoh-Ting, was very supportive to the industry and that was why Ampex started the first Asian circuit board factory in Taiwan. Setting up a factory in Hong Kong, in Lee’s opinion, could facilitate the transfer of technology to Hong Kong.

Lee opened a new Design Engineering Department for Ampex, the first amongst American electronic companies. The Department hired local Hong Kong-trained engineers such as H.Y.Wong, who, for a long time, had served as the factory’s Engineering Manager. The founder of Elec & Eltek had also worked at Ampex under Lee’s supervision until he got hold of the circuit board technology and started his own business. There were a lot of similarities between the Design Department in Hong Kong and that of the head office in the US, hence the Hong Kong engineers often went to the US for exchange visits. The Design Department had the most advanced machinery, allowing Hong Kong to produce top-rate designs. Lee pointed out that grasping the techniques were of prime important, whereas doing product tests was just a secondary procedure.

Ampex had many divisions around the world. The head division was in Los Angeles, specializing in core memory systems, whereas its headquarters was located in Redwood City, Bay Area, California. Ampex also produced electronic equipment for TV stations. In the outset, Ampex refused to collaborate with Sony. Lee had repeatedly advised the CEO of Ampex to be watchful of Japanese developments but his words went unheard. Nowadays, all electronic equipment in TV stations, such as cassette tapes and camera, were made by the Japanese. Even though Ampex was where Sony got its technology from, it was no longer competitive over Sony. Apart from that, Lee had suggested Ampex’s management to pay attention to Intel and Fairchild, which began to develop chips in the 1980s, but again his advice was dismissed. At the end, Ampex lost its position as a market leader. Japanese factories were not particularly influential in Hong Kong, as they seldom show up in industry gatherings among electronics professionals.

Japanese investment in Hong Kong was limited and concentrated mostly on radio production. The education level of their workers was generally low. Lee did not keep watch of Japanese companies and instead focused on following advanced technologies. He did not know too many colleagues who had worked at Japanese factories. Looking back at his career, Lee stated that he only spent a short period of time in the manufacturing industry, most of it was with Lockheed. He recalled that during his time there, the 1967 riot broke out. Going to work every day became a risky activity. In the light of possible danger, Lee was reassigned to the company headquarters in Prince’s Building where he could take up administrative work. It was a fearful time when there were people shouting slogans and releasing tear gas outside the building. For half a year, going to work was a frightful thing to do and he did once thought of returning to the US. Fortunately, the riot quenched afterwards.

Lee joined Ampex as Test Engineering Manager and was promoted to General Manager after two years. He since focused on management, determined to dispel the entrenched myth that engineers could never be good managers. During the time when he was General Manager, the Oil Crisis occurred in 1973, which resulted in a sharp decrease in the number of orders. At first he had thought of laying off some of his workers, but then he changed his mind and instead arranged for them to take a three-day work week. After six months, the dire situation finally began to turn for the better. Lee said with regret that Chinese manufacturers did not join the electronic sector because the initial capital investment tended to be enormous. So instead they engaged in labour-intensive production of radios and calculators. Hong Kong’s government, according to Lee, had not done enough to support the industry, which made it possible for Taiwan and Korea to surpass Hong Kong. Taiwan, for instance, had set up the renowned Hsinchu Science Park.




Title Worked in Ampex in 1970s. Products and plants of Ampex
Date 04/10/2010
Subject Industry
Duration 17m7s
Language Cantonese
Material Type
Collection
Repository Hong Kong Memory Project
Note to Copyright Copyright owned by Hong Kong Memory Project
Accession No. LKF-LPF-SEG-004
Becoming the General Manager in Ampex responsible for labour management
Lee stressed that he never had any prior knowledge in management when he became Ggeneral Manager. The plant worked upon a three-shift basis. The morning shift lasted from 7am to 3pm, the afternoon shift from 3pm to 11pm, and night shift from 11pm to 7am. Lee would arrive at work before 7am and make a round of inspection at 7am and 3pm respectively. Occasionally he returned to his office at 11pm to show to the workers that he was with them and be there for them. Lee had developed a close relationship with the workers and made an outstanding performance in the industry. In its heyday, there were 3,800 workers at Ampex, making internal communication difficult. Therefore, Lee set up an amplifier in the plant and assigned all announcements to be made by a female worker with a beautiful voice. Music was played from time to time to forge a delightful working environment. He also installed air-conditioning and made sure the floor tiles were waxed in order to make the environment clean and comfortable. He offered the workers an attractive remuneration package with a wage that was 10% above the industry average. The factory was particular about technological standards, so the female workers who operated a microscope must have their eyes checked regularly. In addition, Ampex asked its female workers to wear uniforms to work.


Title Becoming the General Manager in Ampex responsible for labour management
Date 04/10/2010
Subject Industry
Duration 5m12s
Language Cantonese
Material Type
Collection
Repository Hong Kong Memory Project
Note to Copyright Copyright owned by Hong Kong Memory Project
Accession No. LKF-LPF-SEG-005
How Lee Peng Fei involved in politics
In the late 1970s, Sir Murray MacLehose, then Governor of Hong Kong, established the Committee of Economic Diversification to advance Hong Kong’s high technology development. MacLehose toured Ampex in 1977 and listened to Lee’s outlook on Hong Kong’s electronic industry. Lee once recommended the government to invest in building a technology park, but he was snubbed because high technology may incur a high risk. Hong Kong as a result failed to take a head start and follow the footsteps of Taiwan’s Hsinchu Science Park. Lee denounced the government for mismatching talents by appointing an Administrative Officer to be the Secretary for Trade and Industry.

In 1978, the Governor invited Lee to serve as a Legislative Council member. In the past, Lee had sat on the Consumer Council and Electronics Industry Training Board, but only as a volunteer. The senior management of Ampex endorsed Lee’s decision to go into politics because Americans believed that commercial and industrial employees could make contributions to the society by joining public service. When Lee was a Legislative Councillor, he was also managing Ampex’s business in Asia and often had to go on overseas business trips. Lee focused on marketing under the mentorship of Ampex’s Senior Executive Vice-President Andy Anderson. Ampex was then gradually shifting towards producing TV station equipment and diminishing the memory section. Though he had became a politician in the British colonial administration, he continued to uphold his Chinese identity and kept his Certificate of Identity (CI). He obtained neither British nor American citizenship. In 1985, he was invited by Sir Edward Youde, then Governor of Hong Kong, to join the Executive Council. Since he was busy with public service, he finally left Ampex and moved on to become Leo Tang Hsiang Chien’s business partner. He turned sentimental when he recounted his life path, for while going into politics changed his course of life, many of his former employees had become chairmen of public listed companies today.


Title How Lee Peng Fei involved in politics
Date 04/10/2010
Subject Industry
Duration 12m8s
Language Cantonese
Material Type
Collection
Repository Hong Kong Memory Project
Note to Copyright Copyright owned by Hong Kong Memory Project
Accession No. LKF-LPF-SEG-006
Founded two electronics companies: Meadville and Jada
In 1985, Lee left Ampex and established Meadville Holdings Limited with Leo Tang Hsiang Chien, a company that produced printed circuits board (PCB). Lee and Tang were then Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries respectively. This was how they met and became business partners. The two of them believed that PCB was indispensable to electronic products and therefore it had a bright investment prospect. Meadville hired technical specialists from the US and also received orders from there. The PCBs used to be made up of two layers, but today they consist of more than ten. Tang was confident of the future of the electronics industry, and thus began investing in Mainland China since an early time. Lee, on the other hand, established a copper-clad laminate factory in Dongguan for Meadville. The price of land in Dongguan was as low as RMB 1 per square foot. To set up its factory, Meadville bought a tract of land that was 300,000-square foot large. Lee had already gotten hold of the knowledge of making PCB when he previously helped Ampex open the factory in Taiwan.

Nowadays Tang had expanded his capital investment in electronics than what he did in woolen spinning. Listed in Shanghai, Meadville was a large company. Simultaneously, Lee and his ex-colleagues from Ampex set up a trading firm that sold copper foils to manufacturers PCBs and cooper-clad laminates. Tang himself was one of the most important clients of this company. Since his time in Ampex, Lee had developed a good relationship with Japanese buyers. In 1991, he began to cooperate with a Japanese buyer and set up Jada Electronics Limited, focusing on selling cooper-clad laminates and copper foils. Lee and the Japanese partner each held 50% of the company’s shares, and this partnership had continued until today. Copper foil was a high-tech component found inside multi-layer printed circuit boards.


Title Founded two electronics companies: Meadville and Jada
Date 04/10/2010
Subject Industry
Duration 9m34s
Language Cantonese
Material Type
Collection
Repository Hong Kong Memory Project
Note to Copyright Copyright owned by Hong Kong Memory Project
Accession No. LKF-LPF-SEG-007
Review on his three life stages (1): engineer, politician and media practitioner
Lee mentioned there were three significant stages in his life, namely being an engineer, a politician and a media practitioner. He maintained that each transition to a new occupation was unplanned. The challenges he faced at each transition had spiced up his life. Lee had been a manager at Ampex for many years, and he thought he had made larger achievement at management position more than what he had done at the technical side. He would depend upon his colleagues to keep himself updated on the latest technologies. To Lee, there were three guiding principles of managing people: to be punctual, to be sincere and to be elitist. He cited the Singaporean government as an example to show how the HKSAR Government was less capable of using talents. What delighted him most when he was at Ampex was helping the company get the Governor's Awards of the Year - the highest accolade in industry. All Ampex’s award-winning inventions had been put into industrial production, such as the memory system that H.Y Wong designed for Fujitsu. Lee was gratified by his achievements in establishing a design department for Ampex to train university graduates in Hong Kong. Looking back to his years of service at Ampex, he pointed out that the Oil Crisis in 1973 was the biggest challenge to the company.

In 1978, he began to go into politics. During his political career, the greatest challenges encountered by Hong Kong were the question over Hong Kong’s handover to China and the Chinese democratic movement of 1989. His health once deteriorated because of the burden of his political commitment, and therefore he perceived his losing the 1998 election as a chance for him to rest and recuperate. After 1998, he became involved in the mass media, with the belief that being a media practitioner could broaden his own horizon. Every time before having an interview with his interviewee, Lee would work hard to prepare himself with sufficient background knowledge. This would not only help the interviewer run a good show but also enrich his knowledge. Lee felt grateful of having an eventful and rich life, a wonderful family and grown-up children who were independent. The person whom he most admired was banker Chuang Shih-ping. When Lee first came to Hong Kong he was resource-stricken and later became a boarding student at Hong Kong Adventist College in Clearwater Bay, where he learnt his ways to interact with people. Getting along with people was in no way an easy thing to do.




Title Review on his three life stages (1): engineer, politician and media practitioner
Date 04/10/2010
Subject Industry
Duration 21m
Language Cantonese
Material Type
Collection
Repository Hong Kong Memory Project
Note to Copyright Copyright owned by Hong Kong Memory Project
Accession No. LKF-LPF-SEG-008
Review on his three life stages (2): engineer, politician and media practitioner
Lee did not see himself as an industrialist as he had left the field for years and therefore out of touch with the most up-to-date technologies. He believed he had led a colourful life. Every stage of his life afforded him much satisfaction, and presented him with both risks and opportunities. The most stressful time came when he joined the Executive Council. Governor Sir Edward Youde asked him to become a UK citizen, yet he rejected the offer. He believed that Hong Kong people need to know about China. The future of Hong Kong’s younger generation lies there. He recommended against adhering obstinately to what had happened in the first 30 years of the People’s Republic of China, for the isolation of China in fact provided the conditions for Hong Kong’s development. Lee had been a member of the National People’s Congress, and was familiar with affairs in the Mainland. He concluded that the main two problems there were corruption and the lack of the rule of law. His childhood experience had led him to treat the Mainland government with mistrust, until Yang Shangkun invited him to Guangzhou in 1976 to visit China’s electronics factories. Lee was struck by the backwardness he saw in the Mainland, and for once he had contemplated getting a UK passport. Lee deplored the ups and downs in life, yet he was delighted by his political career. He believed in the survival of the fittest and thought that he himself was good at adapting to different environments. Contented with his children who had all grown up and his happy family, he wished he could enjoy the rest of his life.


Title Review on his three life stages (2): engineer, politician and media practitioner
Date 04/10/2010
Subject Industry
Duration 16m15s
Language Cantonese
Material Type
Collection
Repository Hong Kong Memory Project
Note to Copyright Copyright owned by Hong Kong Memory Project
Accession No. LKF-LPF-SEG-009