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From civil servant to top business guru

Updated: 2013-12-16 07:45
By Wang Qianin Jiaxiang, Shandong ( China Daily)

When Chen Jianhua left his job as a civil servant 15 years ago to start a glove-making business, he never thought he would become the largest sports glove manufacturer and exporter in Jiaxiang county, one of the world's major sports glove production areas.

His Shandong-based Jining Zhongxing Gloves Group, which owns five subsidiary companies and a technology service center, now produces 10 million pairs of sport gloves annually.

About 80 percent of Chen's gloves are exported to more than 30 countries and regions, including the United States, Italy, Canada and Switzerland. The company's exports were worth $10 million last year.

"I really enjoy running the glove business," Chen says. "Like the girl who put on the red shoes in the fairy tale and couldn't stop dancing, you can't stop. You want to pursue one goal after another." This was how Chen explained his expansion of the business over the past 10 years.

The road to success, however, has been far from smooth.

After graduating from Shandong Industrial University in 1989, Chen worked for a local government department for several years under the influence of the Chinese tradition that "officialdom is the natural outlet for good scholars".

Frustrated by the slim prospects for promotion, he quit the stable job in 1988 and took charge of the previously State-owned Jining Zhongxing Garments Co, which was on the verge of bankruptcy because of poor management.

"When I came to the workshop, I was shocked to see that all the machines had been stopped and the workers were playing cards all day," Chen says. "The company left me a debt of 200,000 yuan ($33,000) and a batch of unsold clothes and gloves."

Chen urged the workers and his family to try every means to sell the stock. They held sales promotions at local temple fairs and even set up street stalls.

While his competitors stayed in Jiaxiang county waiting for orders to come in, Chen went out and chased them. He attended the China import-export fair in Guangzhou in 1999 with a large bag of gloves. With no money for a booth, he had to show the products near an elevator in the exhibition hall. Eventually he caught the attention of a US dealer, whom Chen calls Kenkye.

"Won over by our relatively attractive prices, Kenkye placed an order for 40,000 pairs of ski gloves," Chen says. "When we delivered the goods to him several months later, he gave us a bonus of $8,000 for fulfilling the order on time with high-quality products."

The success of the first overseas order encouraged Chen to develop his sports glove manufacturing, so he transformed the factory to suit those products.

With these efforts, Chen cleared all the debts and earned a profit of 700,000 yuan by the end of the following year.

According to the trend for reforming State-owned enterprises in China, the garment company was turned into the privately owned Zhongxing Gloves Group, with Chen taking over as its president in 2003.

Today, the group has established long-term partnerships with many world-renowned sports brands, such as Richlu of Canada and Gordini and Kombi of the United States.

From civil servant to top business guru

Chen attributes the group's rapid expansion to establishing a strict quality control system and cultivating a large number of skilled workers.

"The glove-making industry is a typical labor-intensive sector and requires lots of experienced workers," Chen says.

"Each ski glove needs to go through more than 20 production processes, including sewing, embroidery and fabric mending, most of which have to be done by hand."

To meet the growing demand for orders and overcome a labor shortage, Chen started to develop family workshops in neighboring villages in 2008. He was the first glove maker in the area to do this.

In addition to the 1,000 employees working in his factories, Chen now has 40 family workshops where more than 1,200 villagers do stitching, sewing and mending.

Zhang Yanxia, who is responsible for one workshop, hired more than 50 middle-aged women from her village to work in her two-story house in Tuanli town, which is about half an hour's drive from one of Chen's factories.

"A worker who is highly proficient with sewing machines can earn 2,000 to 3,000 yuan a month, much higher than farmers," says the 28-year-old, who makes a net profit of more than 100,000 yuan annually.

According to Shandong Provincial Bureau of Statistics, a farmer's annual per capita net income in the province was only 9,446 yuan last year.