October 23, 2012, by China Policy Institute
“Four Dimensions” of A Chinese Family Business in the UK and Beyond
by Bin Wu.
It is not common for a Chinese Studies Seminar to attract so many academic staff and students to learn about an overseas Chinese family business. The speaker was Dr. Chen Mingliang, the owner of Omega Travel Group (Omega thereafter). Established in 1996, Omega consisted of two staff, one full-time, his wife, and one part-time, himself.
Since then, his business has quickly developed and has become one of leading Chinese enterprises in the UK. Besides the headquarters in Milton Keynes, there are four branches in major cities: London, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh, with over 100 staff working with him. Having witnessed the rapid growth of the Chinese population and Chinese students studying in the UK, you may think the success of his business is closely related to an increasing demand for international travel from Chinese students as well as Chinese tourists in the UK and Europe. Reflecting such demand, Dr. Chen has set-up branches in Beijing, Shanghai and other big cities and his employees in China have now reached 120.
“China’s rise”, according to Dr. Chen, is important but not a determining factor for the successful Chinese family business in the UK or Europe. Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain why so many Chinese companies have set up in a similar business as him but have frequently closed down over the last decade. One important factor, which differentiates Dr. Chen from the vast majority of Chinese family businessmen or businesswomen in the UK and Europe as well, is perhaps his education background and experience of a career transformation from an excellent academic researcher to a successful entrepreneur.
Dr. Chen received his Doctoral degree in Theoretical Physics from a top UK university, and then worked as research fellow for seven years in the areas of Cancer Research and Pharmacology. Seeing a good trend and potential for his family business, he decided to quit his research job at the University of Cambridge in 1999, a move not easily understood by his colleagues and friends. He says his academic background helped him a lot to find new ways to cope with many challenges, and also to catch many opportunities later on.
The two factors together, China’s rise and his academic background, however, are still not enough to explain why his business has been able to reach such a high level, a £120 million turnover each year despite increasing competition amongst Chinese enterprises. Based upon his seminar and personal conservations afterwards, I summarise his success as four factors or “4 dimensions” (borrowing a Physics term from Dr. Chen). The first is innovation: he views innovation as the key to his family business, and always tries to apply new IT technology to improve the efficiency and quality of his services. The second is global perspective: he emphasises the business opportunity in China and Chinese people, but does not totally depend upon China.
This is why he has developed new markets in the Philippines and is currently preparing to establish branches in India. The third is long term perspective: he is good at business cycle analysis, and has insights into the relationship between challenges and opportunities. No less important in my view is his 4th dimension: corporate social responsibility. He stressed the nature and importance of interconnection, balance and reciprocity between business and society. Despite being a family business, he takes care about the career development of his employees, the satisfactions of customers, the public image of his company, as well as the barriers and issues against new Chinese integration into mainstream society.
Bin Wu is Senior Research Fellow of the China Policy Institute.
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