Mov­ing on up

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

‘Hire the right per­son” and “pro­vide qual­ity ser­vices”. That is the key to run­ning a suc­cess­ful busi­ness, says James Thompson, founder and chair­man of Crown World­wide Group.

Head­quar­tered in Hong Kong since 1974, Crown World­wide’s ma­jor busi­nesses are “mov­ing and re­lo­ca­tion” and “doc­u­ment stor­age”.

Thompson was just 25 when he founded the com­pany, then called Trans­port Ser­vices In­ter­na­tional, in Yoko­hama, Ja­pan.

US-born and raised, Thompson says he was al­ways fas­ci­nated with Asia from a young age, and his first in­tro­duc­tion to it was when he came to Ja­pan and took up a job.

“I came to Asia not to do busi­ness — I only took a job be­cause I needed money to live in Ja­pan. I was fas­ci­nated by the coun­try and I wanted to learn more,” Thompson told China Daily, adding that he got a job but, af­ter a year and a half, he was re­leased from it.”

“So I was 25 years old, no job, I had to think about what to do. I didn’t want to leave Ja­pan, so I de­cided to start a tiny, tiny com­pany.”

“I didn’t have much money at all, but I thought ‘ why not, I have noth­ing to lose’. So I bought a truck and started a mov­ing firm, and I got some cus­tomers.”

That was in 1965, and Thompson said that back then he was deal­ing with ex­pa­tri­ates in Ja­pan, help­ing them move.

Be­ing an English speaker meant he com­mu­ni­cated bet­ter with his cus­tomers, which was his com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage.

He and his staff pro­vided per­sonal ser­vices to their valu­able cus­tomers, re­ally lis­tened to what they needed and tried their best to meet their de­mands, Thompson em­pha­sized.

Then busi­ness be­gan to grow and the com­pany started to ex­pand. “I came to Hong Kong in 1970, it was the be­gin­ning of a big growth era for Hong Kong,” he said.

Hong Kong was an im­me­di­ate suc­cess story for the com­pany, said Thompson. They in­tro­duced the com­pany and of­fered very pro­fes­sional ser­vices, and quickly built up a large cus­tomer base.

“Dur­ing the first year, we made a profit in Hong Kong, and we have been mak­ing profit ev­ery year ever since, and it is very good profit.”

Very soon, Thompson de­cided that Hong Kong was a de­sir­able place for do­ing busi­ness and that Crown should be head­quar­tered here, and the move was made of­fi­cial in 1974.

“The peo­ple we have found in Hong Kong are the best, they are very hard­work­ing and en­er­getic. There is a very good tax struc­ture here, we ob­vi­ously want to make money and we also want to keep the money as much as we can. And the le­gal sys­tem in Hong Kong is great,” said Thompson.

Aside from Hong Kong, Thompson also wants to see fur­ther growth in his busi­ness on the main­land.

“Since the 1970s, we were be­ing re­quested by dif­fer­ent peo­ple, diplo­matic staff and some cor­re­spon­dents, to help them with some ser­vices on the Chi­nese main­land. We kind of started to learn about the Chi­nese main­land very early.”

But the com­pany could not open an of­fice on the main­land un­til the late 1970s and the launch of the “re­form and open­ing-up” process.

Crown World­wide Group was even­tu­ally able to es­tab­lish rep­re­sen­ta­tive of­fices in many main­land cities, start­ing with Guangzhou. Shang­hai, Bei­jing, Chengdu and Tian­jin soon fol­lowed. “In 2003, when the cen­tral and Hong Kong gov­ern­ments ini­ti­ated their Closer Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship Ar­range­ment (CEPA), we im­me­di­ately ap­plied for the qual­i­fi­ca­tion and were ac­cepted as a CEPA com­pany,” Thompson re­called. “We were able to do much more on the main­land in terms of hir­ing staff and even build­ing our own build­ings, which made a huge dif­fer­ence for us.”

He said the rev­enue cur­rently gen­er­ated from the main­land al­most equals that from Hong Kong, but profit there has yet to hit sat­is­fac­tory lev­els. How­ever, he hopes that will change in the near fu­ture.

“The thing about the Chi­nese main­land is that we are still learn­ing as things on the main­land are chang­ing very fast,” said Thompson.

He said he knows that many young peo­ple in Hong Kong want to start their own busi­ness and hopes they are as suc­cess­ful as Crown World­wide Group.

“The most im­por­tant thing in busi­ness is peo­ple — if you want to start your own busi­ness, you need to hire the right peo­ple.”

Thompson re­called that when he started the firm, he did not speak much Ja­panese, not enough to do busi­ness, at least. How­ever, he did have two Ja­panese men on his staff. When they needed to buy a truck, Thompson told them what their bud­get was and how much they could af­ford to pay for it. When the pair re­turned, they told him that they had got a much bet­ter price than Thompson ex­pected.

“I used to think that only I could do it, but it turned out I had peo­ple that could do it bet­ter. So if you are start­ing a busi­ness, don’t think that you are the only one and you have to do ev­ery­thing. You just need to find the right per­son, they may do it bet­ter than you.”

He also ad­vised young en­trepreneurs in Hong Kong to al­ways pro­vide qual­ity ser­vices.

“When I started out, I had so few cus­tomers, but I re­ally val­ued my cus­tomers. And those cus­tomers be­came our best sales­peo­ple, as they would rec­om­mend our ser­vices to neigh­bors and friends, and that is much bet­ter than what our ac­tual sales­per­sons could ever do.”

Con­tact the writer at so­phiehe@chi­nadai­

Crown­thCrownWorld­wideGroup­founderJamesThomp­son­shares­the story of trans­form­ing his once-tiny pack­ing and mov­ing busi­ness into a global op­er­a­tion span­ning 60 na­tions. So­phie He re­ports.

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