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Not all rich kids are behaving badly

By Hong Liang | China Daily | Updated: 2013-03-18 07:55

The media seems to take particular pleasure in reporting the mishaps of the young men and women from rich families. Stories of them rampaging on the streets in their Ferraris and Porsches or getting into brawls in exclusive nightclubs give casual readers the impression that it is a curse to be born rich.

This is a false impression. For a special report on the first anniversary of financial reforms in Wenzhou, our reporters recently interviewed several second-generation entrepreneurs in their late 20s to early 40s who have either created tremendous value for their family businesses or else steered them into new ventures that promise wider profit margins and greater growth potential.

Take Pan Jianzhong, the 43-year-old boss of one of Wenzhou's largest shoe manufacturers, which has annual sales exceeding $100 million. After graduating from a technical college in Shanghai, Pan returned to Wenzhou to take over the business that his mother founded in 1988 with just 5,000 yuan ($797).

He told our reporters that even then, when the supply of land and labor seemed limitless, he knew that the future of manufacturing, not only in his hometown but also around the nation, lay in automation. He was one of the first shoemakers in what is the shoemaking capital of China to introduce modern machinery on the production lines.

If it hadn't been for that foresight, he said he would be facing the problems many other manufacturers in Wenzhou are facing: labor shortages and rising costs. His factory employs about 5,000 workers with an annual production of about 18 million pairs of shoes. "Without automation, I would have to employ at least five times more workers to achieve the same output," he told our reporters.

In another part of town in a new high-tech zone, 29-year-old Shao Shaoqing, heir to a soy sauce fortune, is busy with his new biotech startup. It has already started production of a number of drugs under the brand name Haikang and also manufactures biometric identification devices that are now used to search for survivors in disaster areas. Shao said that he expected the new venture to become the mainstay of his family business in the future.

Of course, there will always be people buying soy sauce, but the profit margins of such labor-intensive industries are expected to continue to narrow as competition from other low-cost production bases increases.

Dressed in a dark business suit, the somber-looking Shao drives a Mini that's more middle-class hip than super-rich fast, an image at odds with the image of the second-generation rich created by the media. He said that he spends most of his time working either in his office or at home. He remains single because he said he doesn't have time to socialize much.

I have met very few second-generation rich. But although I have heard many horror stories about the excesses of the second-generation rich from my friends, those I have met, at work or through friends, show none of the undesirable characteristics they have ascribed to them, and none of them were the badly behaving rich kids portrayed in the media.

In fact, one of the reporters who did the Wenzhou story is from a rich family, although you wouldn't know by just looking at her. She takes the subway to work, buys her clothes on Taobao and works just as hard, if not harder, than her colleagues.

(China Daily 03/18/2013 page10)

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