Hong Kong's Michael Ying

Several times a month, you can find Michael Ying down in Hong Kong's Central subway station, noting the clothes, shoes, and bags of the twentysomething women on their way to work. For Ying, chairman of retailer Esprit Holdings Ltd., these trips are vital to understanding his customers. "You can keep guessing, but the consumer finally corrects you," he says.

Ying is a rarity these days--an Asian retailer who makes money. Ying, 50, started out as a supplier to U.S.-based Esprit in the 1970s, but eventually gained control of the company in Asia and Europe. By offering hot fashion at low prices, he's kept his local customers coming. But he also has crisis insurance--two-thirds of Esprit's $670 million in annual revenues comes from outside Asia. Profits soared 46% in the last half of 1997. Ying is taking advantage of lower rents to open bigger shops. His next move: low-priced clothes for kids. Thanks to Ying, Hong Kong can keep on shopping.

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