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