Shunde: tasting success as it woos investors
In a region with a reputation for its contact with the wider world, the town of Shunde – now a district of the city of Foshan – stands out for its global reach. So says Michael Xie, formerly an executive at Nortel Networks and Dell, who now heads the Yuangfang Corporation, a social enterprise that promotes the PRD’s contact with the wider world.
Shunde’s historical reputation in China was as a horticultural centre but in the wake of the 1980s reforms, it emerged as one of the leading manufacturers of household appliances, furniture and jeans.
A vibrant urban district on the western banks of the Pearl River, Shunde also has a proudly international outlook, Xie explains. “Historically, many Shunde natives have gone abroad,” he says. “One of the most famous success stories is Liang Dunyan, who went to the United States in the 1870s as part of a programme that sent 30 children overseas to study. Later Liang went to Yale University, before returning to China to become a minister of foreign affairs. His story inspired many others to try their luck overseas.”
More recently, Shunde’s entrepreneurs have taken on the globalising mission. Xie says there were few state-owned enterprises in Shunde when Guangdong began its economic renaissance in the late 1970s, and that the firms that were owned by the state were some of the first to be privatised in China. That meant that Shunde’s entrepreneurs were some of the earliest to go overseas in search of customers and investors. “Most of the company founders in Shunde then sent their kids overseas for their education, and more than half of these students have come back to take on key roles in their family businesses,” he explains. “This next generation is even more familiar with the wider world.”
Despite its international instincts, Shunde has to battle for global attention: “Shunde is home to about two million people, which is hardly a trivial number compared to most cities in Europe and the US. But we aren’t a major city in Chinese terms and it can be a struggle to make the breakthrough with companies and investors overseas. For instance, Shunde generally doesn’t appear on English-language maps, which isn’t the easiest starting point!”
Xie and his colleagues promote Shunde’s commercial opportunities with foreign governments, international chambers of commerce and business associations, and try to find ways to describe the city in a manner that people will remember.
“We need to create an identity around Shunde and we use things like the local food,” he explains. “We have a UNESCO designation as a city of gastronomy, so we run cooking courses on some of our trips, or bring our guests to special tastings when they visit us.” One such event can be seen in the photo above.
Because Yuangfang’s shareholders have their strongest business networks in the United States, Xie has been concentrating most of his early focus there. But his organisation is also active in the EU and Russia, and he says that he will be travelling to other markets as well. “We will focus on cooperation with ‘One Belt, One Road’ countries in the future as they will become bigger export markets, and because this is being encouraged by government policies here in China,” he explains.
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