HK-based consulting firm shifts focus

The Web Connection, an Internet and electronic commerce consulting firm that was launched in the mid-1990s as one of Hong Kong’s first Web design companies, on Thursday took note of a maturing Asian Internet industry and renamed itself Ion Global Ltd.

The new corporate identity – ironically, unveiled to a pounding rock-and-roll beat in a boisterous event that looked like a dot-com product launch – will reflect the company’s new focus on building full online operations for companies both new and well-established.

In addition to designing a Web site, this may include building an infrastructure, setting up software systems such as customer relationship management, and consulting on marketing and corporate strategy, said Steve McKay, president of Ion Global.

Following the rush of dot-com euphoria that grabbed attention a year ago, and the gloom of the subsequent financial-market downturn, companies in Asia now may be dismissing the importance of the Internet – at their own peril, McKay said. It is more critical than ever for established companies in the region to start taking advantage of the connections that the Internet has created among consumers and enterprises, he said.

The company’s announcement came on the morning after Hong Kong Internet startup-turned-telecommunications carrier Pacific Century CyberWorks Ltd. described a similar focus as it tries to emerge profitable from a tough year 2000.

It also follows by one day the announcement by Ion Global’s parent company, Chinadotcom Corp., that it is seeking to streamline its total work force from about 2,400 at the end of last year to 2,000 by the end of June.

Ion Global does not expect to reduce the head count of its core operations in the near future, said Peter Hamilton, CEO of Ion Global and chief operating officer (COO) of Chinadotcom, at Thursday’s announcement. Most of the staff reductions will come from disposal of past acquisitions by Chinadotcom that don’t fit into its three main businesses – consumer portals, advertising agency 24/7 Media Asia and Ion Global – he said.

McKay said Ion Global’s business is expanding rapidly in most areas, especially China, where many state-owned enterprises have turned to the company for help going online. The company has offices in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, Thailand, Singapore, the U.S. and the U.K. Customers include such names as Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp., Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., brokerage house Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. and consumer products vendor Procter & Gamble Co.

However, the company’s expansion has not matched McKay’s own expectations last summer. Last August at Comdex Korea, McKay said Web Connection had about 200 staff in Seoul and was enthusiastically recruiting for expansion there. In Tokyo it had about 50 staff and was aiming for 100 by the end of 2000, and in China its approximately 300 staff might total 700 over the coming year, McKay told that conference. Overall, the company had about 1,000 employees across Asia, he said.

Today, the company quotes the same number for its total staff, although employees may total 1,200 depending on whether all subsidiaries are included, said Ion Global Regional Manager of Corporate Communications Melanie Lowe-Hansen. Ion Global today has about 60 employees in South Korea and 70 in Tokyo, she said. Even in China, the total staff numbers approximately 250.

Ion Global, in Hong Kong, can be reached at