Merage School alum creates international business with MBA skills

February 27, 2023 • By The UCI Paul Merage School of Business

Merage School alum Eric Li earned his wealth the hard way.

Coming from a poor family, Li had no financial assistance from older generations. Through hard work, determination, and his experiences at the Merage School, Li worked his way up through the energy industry to start an international coal business.

Li widened his understanding of the business world and acquired valuable skills while earning his MBA in 1994 at the Merage School. He improved his English, learned how to interact with people from varying cultures, and expanded his understanding of finance.

“At UCI, I took courses in marketing, economics, finance, and accounting, which were all new to me,” Li said. “I recall I took more accounting courses, including intermediate accounting and financial report analysis. This experience makes me always pay high attention to my company’s cash flow and feel comfortable to discuss it with my CPAs.”

Following his graduation from UCI, Li sold power generation equipment for a trading company before becoming a coal trader with the largest Russian coal producer. He started his own company three years later.

“I accumulated enough experience in the coal business and also believed that consumable products are better to start a business in view of better cash flow,” Li said.

In 2010, Li founded Yong Li Resources Limited in Taiwan. The company specifically focuses on the agency business for Indonesian coal supply, but also includes coal trading and agency work for Japanese trading houses, European trading companies, and Russian, Australian, and Colombian coal producers. The coal comes from Australia, Indonesia, South Africa, Russia, the United States, and Columbia.

“I was very lucky to successfully start my own business after the financial crisis because the huge money injection pushed the commodity prices to a record high at that time,” Li said. “I quickly accumulated my personal assets in the first few years.”

A few years later, he started Rich Bulk Capital Limited, which deals with bond investments and the agency part of the coal business from other sourcing countries. Li has been an aggressive bond investor for more than a decade to help pave the road for his retirement. Li mentioned that a UCI macroeconomics course helped him better understand the world economy report more easily, which is correlated to the bond market.

While Li’s business has flourished for more than a decade, he has faced political and economic obstacles in the natural gas industry.

“It’s not easy to run a coal business, especially working as an agent or trader,” Li said. “Coal is a natural resource and cannot be made by factories, so both suppliers and buyers are limited compared to other products. Moreover, coal demand is affected by economic growth and also government policies. China is the biggest coal producer and also consumer, but China’s policies are most unpredictable.”

Li has persevered through the challenges and is proud to have built a legacy for his family. In particular, he’s gratified to be able to financially support his two children as they attend schools in the United States.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Kevin Chun-Kai Li is planning to apply to the Master of Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the Merage School later this month. He’s currently majoring in Arts at UC San Diego.

“After Kevin learned about the MIE program at UCI, he was very excited and keen to broaden his study in a business-related degree,” Li said of his son. “From my personal experience, I strongly encourage Kevin to pursue a business degree in order to combine his different skills and undergraduate backgrounds in his career. The MIE program is a one-year program, which provides all the required fundamental knowledge in creating and running a business. This is exactly what Kevin needs in order to gain business education in a very efficient way.”

Li said that he established a reliable team to take the reigns of his coal business when he retires, so he will not force his son to work for the company. Like himself, he wants his son to pursue what he is passionate about.

“I believe Kevin is influenced by my success in my career, and he plans to start his own business sooner or later in the future,” Li said. “He is passionate about studying at the same university where his father did 30 years ago.”