February 25, 2011 8 Comments
Below is an inspiring story of a truly extraordinary woman.I found the original post here : http://invincibleprobity.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/the-american-spirit-now-comes-from-china/
The story is a must read for entrepreneurs and would be entrepreneurs, women and anyone interested in a human interest story.
When I have some down time I usually hang out at my home in the Rocky Mountains of northwest Montana, USA. This is a wonderful place of very few people and lots of big mountains and beautiful scenery. It’s a special region of rivers and streams and lakes … and billions of trees. As opposed to the eastern part of this huge state, where agriculture and cattle reign, northwest Montana has long depended on its biggest industry – timber and wood products. But this industry, faced with steadily increasing restrictions on logging in our national forests and steadily rising competition from cheaper products from overseas, has been in slow decline for the past forty years. It seems like another small lumber mill that had been around for a century is closed down every few months.
In 2009 even big corporate mills started closing. One of these was the Smerfit-Stone Container mill in Frenchtown near Missoula. A second Smerfit-Stone container mill also filed for bankruptcy in Canada at the same time, and Smerfit-Stone mills in Arizona and Quebec had closed earlier. The company naturally cited “the unprecedented global economic recession [which] has weakened demand for packaging”, but a major portion of the truth has been left out of the Smerfit-Stone rationalizing, including the fact that it had failed to upgrade its equipment to meet modern advanced capabilities and had retained its dependence on expensive freshly logged timber to manufacture its cardboard containers. This is another American industry that has long been locked in the past while taking profits for today and failing to improve its competitiveness in the arena for tomorrow.
Like so many American industries that were forged by great visionaries of the past, the American wood products industry is a microcosm of the nation as a whole over the past forty years. It all seems like an ingrained resistance by today’s Americans to learn the lessons of generations that went before. If perhaps not for Americans, however, the Greatest Generation definitely did set an indelible example for others.
One of those who read America’s history of the first half of the twentieth century was a young woman born in 1957 in northeast China – at the same time the tidal wave of post-war Baby Boomers was arriving on the scene in America.
In the early 1980s China was trying to pick up the pieces after the decade-long near-apocalyptic Cultural Revolution had nearly destroyed the country and left China far worse off than the Great Depression had left America during the 1930s. Like millions of others who were branded “counterrevolutionaries”, a young army lieutenant with eight kids had spent that decade in prison. When the Cultural Revolution came to a close in 1976, he was finally released, “rehabilitated” and improvised.
Amid the slowly recovering devastation five years later, at the age of 26, the man’s eldest daughter, Zhang Yin (Cantonese – Cheung Yan) left home and journeyed to Shenzhen, a center of China’s early 1980s economic reforms. There she took a finance accounting job at a foreign paper-products trading company and began learning the paper business and building ties with paper producers.
By 1985 she had a business idea of her own: importing waste paper into China. Zhang Yin, then all of 28, thought perhaps she could make a career out of paper. She ended up single-handedly creating two whole industries out of thin air, and in very short order.
First she set up a waste paper trading company – Nine Dragons Paper – in Hong Kong using $4,000 in savings from her clerical work in Shenzhen. “At that time people in China didn’t have name cards, so I carried around an introduction letter,” she recalls. Growth was limited, though, by Hong Kong’s relatively small size and overcrowded competition.
So with limited education at the age of 33, Zhang in 1990 packed her bags and headed for Los Angeles – straight into that evil world renowned as the ruthless male-dominated culture hell-bent on screwing everyone forever. Still, “The US had rich resources, and if I stayed in Hong Kong, I couldn’t satisfy demand in China. At that time most of China’s paper was imported, and the market potential there was vast.”
Looking back, she says getting started in the US wasn’t easy because of her limited language skills. But the style of doing business in the US, which emphasizes discipline, professional standards and solid reputation, matched her own. “The US left me with a wonderful impression,” she says. Analysts say Zhang’s zest, enthusiastic personality and unbridled energy made her a great saleswoman and a savvy deal maker, and her high standards made her a worthy partner. There were occasional threats from competitors, but being a woman was not a problem. “Actually, I didn’t find it difficult,” she says. “I found men respected me.” In the early 1990s she went to work in America while struggling to overcome her poor English skills, and succeeded even beyond her own wildest dreams.
How did she do it?
By astutely sticking with what she knew best and by exploiting what spoiled Americans didn’t want – trash. In 1990 she set up America Chung Nam, Inc. (ACN), a Los Angeles company devoted to acquiring and exporting high quality waste paper. On behalf of her Los Angeles export company, she quickly closed deals with American scrap yards all over the country and began shipping huge containers of discarded paper back to her Nine Dragons Paper company in Hong Kong.
And, of course, no one can produce high quality waste faster than Americans. Most American paper is made from trees or timber by-product, the wood fibers made into pulp and reengineered with chemicals into paper. Within ten years, before the end of the 1990s, Zhang had built ACN into a powerhouse in the American waste paper business. Even so, as late as 2002 she and her husband were still driving around the US in a rented Dodge Caravan trying to get garbage dumps to sell her their scrap paper on contract. Now ACN, a Chinese company operating in the US, has ranked as the largest US exporter of raw materials for paper-making and the biggest container exporter among all US industries for the past seven years in a row. It is also the largest overall US exporter to China, by volume shipped. Its waste paper exports are one-quarter the amount of Wal-Mart’s huge merchandise imports. China imported 14 million tons of waste paper in 2008, nearly half of the world’s waste paper available for export.
With ACN, Zhang Yin waded into the America caldron and showed Americans how they once led the world in such entrepreneurial endeavors. With no support network, with poor language skills, with limited education, with no minority status help, and with no previous experience with America, she went to work and out-did Americans at their own game.
After all those ships bringing Chinese toys to Americans are off-loaded in Los Angeles, Zhang fills them up with waste paper going back to China, which is then turned into packaging for more Chinese toys – to further multiply Chinese wealth.
Without leveling a single stand of trees, she turned American trash into Chinese gold.
Most of that waste paper now goes to her own Chinese manufacturing company, Nine Dragons Paper, which quickly proved too small to handle the volume of raw materials coming in or to handle the rising demand in China. Zhang Yin returned to Hong Kong in 1995, two years before the British Crown colony was transferred back to China, and reorganized Nine Dragons Paper with her husband and her younger brother. The company, now headquartered in Dongguan near Hong Kong, raised almost $500 million in an initial public offering in March 2006 at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange; by the end of 2006 the stock had nearly tripled in value. With plans to invest $800 million and more than double production capacity, the company could soon become Asia’s and even the world’s largest maker of packaging paper. In 2005 she had vowed to take on the world’s global paper giants, like International Paper (#3), Weyerhauser (#2) and Smurfit Stone (#1). In 2009 her company already had 11 ultra-modern giant paper making machines, 5,500 employees, $1 billion in annual revenue and another huge new facility under construction.
This woman thinks Big. “The key to the success of Nine Dragons Paper is ensuring the long-term and steady purchase of high-quality waste paper in large quantities,” said Zhang. She certainly tapped into the right source of high-quality waste paper. ACN has ranked as the number one US exporter of waste paper since 2001 and contributes roughly 10% to Zhang’s fortune. ACN now provides nearly 80 percent of the raw materials for Nine Dragons Paper – which imports all that waste paper and dramatically increases its value for export. Through very hard work and excellent business acumen, she managed to single-handedly corner both the resource end and the production end of her global paper container conglomerate.
Now past 50, Zhang Yin runs a network of modern, highly respected, environmentally-conscious plants throughout China that makes packaging for some of the world’s major global corporations, such as Coca Cola, Nike, Sony, Haier and TCL. The flagship for what is now her major holding company is still Nine Dragons Paper – the company she founded and for which she still serves as chairman and chief executive. The company is now China’s biggest paper maker.
In 2006, just twenty years after beginning her quest, Zhang Yin became China’s richest Billionaire. In 2010 Zhang’s personal fortune was valued at approximately US $5.6 billion. She is now the wealthiest self-made woman in the world, ahead of Oprah Winfrey and J.K. Rowling. Zhang Yin, however, ensures productive livelihoods for many thousands of others on two continents. This for a women with a long list of disadvantages who started out with nothing but her own capabilities and $4,000 of her own savings.
In China, Nine Dragons Paper puts an average of 2-3% of each project’s investment into preventing pollution and carefully monitors its waste water discharges 24 hours a day. Her huge company employs thousands of people in good-paying jobs in actually productive endeavors – endeavors that are also actually good for Earth. Even a major portion of her company’s recycled product finds its way back to Nine Dragons for repeat recycling.
The 53-year-old Zhang Yin would have been right at home in America in, say, 1945. She probably would have, even then, named her Chinese company “Nine Dragons Paper” and her American company “American Chung Nam”, and in twenty years turned it into a global corporation. But now America only interests her for what it chooses to throw away – for how much money she can make and how many Chinese jobs she can create from spoiled American laziness.
Zhang Yin is also the mother of two sons and holds a US “green card”, but has no plans for US citizenship. Her husband, Ming Chung Liu, was born in Taiwan, grew up in Brazil and was trained as a dentist.
Are there new openings for women in China? Zhang Yin believes that, just as in America, they’ve been there all along. “The issue of men and women as equals in China has been solved for a very long time,” and this is increasingly evident amid the country’s great economic boom, she says. How far a woman goes depends on the role that she herself wants to play in life and if she is willing to stick with that role — and, she adds, on her communicating well and her willingness to work hard.
Zhang Yin didn’t do anything that any American could not also have done, easier. Perhaps she was just hungrier. She never took a hand-out, never got a low cost government “minority” small business loan, never used her gender for some advantage, never took any corporate welfare, never even threatened a law suit. In interviews she has never mentioned women being at any disadvantage vis-à-vis men in America, and has never been heard to whine about anything. Perhaps this is why almost no Americans have ever heard of her or her companies. Zhang Yin doesn’t waste time talking things to death. She doesn’t spend a lifetime studying her glorious navel on someone else’s dime. She just goes out and gets the job done. So, quite obviously, she just doesn’t fit the American Baby Boomer mold. And she, her family, her country and the world are the better for it.
So what does it say about us that our largest export is now our trash? And is it lost on anyone that Nine Dragons Paper makes the same product that Smerfit-Stone makes? It just uses better equipment, different raw materials, and has one hell of a can-do dynamo in Zhang Yin.