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Entrepreneur of the Year 2009 hails from China

China General Interest

43 entrepreneurs recently gathered in Monte Carlo, all competing to be crowned the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for 2009.

Every one of these participants had earned the right to be at this world-class event by wining the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur title in their home countries. This included Michael and Christine Hill who were representing New Zealand.

The winner this year was Cao Dewang from the Fuyao Glass Industry Group. Like many entrepreneurs, he emerged from humble beginnings to become one of China’s most successful entrepreneurs.

He started his own business at the age of 16, peddling cut tobacco. He also worked as a farmer, chef, and fruit seller. In 1976, Cao began work as a merchandiser for the Fuqing Gao Shan Special Glass Factory.

Cao founded Fuyao Group in 1987, to specialise in the production of automotive safety glass and industrial technological glass. In 1993, it was the first company in its sector in China to be listed in the Shanghai Stock Exchange. The group has more than 10,000 employees and has glass production facilities in Fuqing, Changchun, Chongqing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing and modern float-glass production bases in Fujian, Jilin, Inner Mongolia and Hainan. It has established a complete sales network across the country, and has business offices in America, Japan, Korea, Australia, Russia, and Germany.

In a time when we can loose our focus on the global economic downturn this celebration was an ideal time to reflect on the real drivers in the global economy – Entrepreneurs.

Jim Turley, Global Chairman, and CEO of Ernst & Young reminded as. “Their vision, leadership, determination, and sheer hard work inspires all of us.”

While they were in Monte Carlo, these Entrepreneurs were asked to share their thoughts on today’s biggest business challenges. We wanted to understand what they believe is needed to deliver a sustainable economic recovery, and the role we can expect entrepreneurs to play in that journey.

These great innovators also told us what it takes to be an entrepreneur. They highlighted their belief that in these difficult economic times many opportunities exist. They provided their thoughts on the role of government, and the need to balance regulation and innovation. Moreover, they offered some inspiring advice to the next generation of entrepreneurs.

The entrepreneurial spirit and the impulse to innovate and take risks is hard-wired into many entrepreneurs. For New Zealand’s Michael Hill, the inspiration to start something from scratch came from a traumatic event: In Michael’s own words: “I played it safe until the age of 40, never really daring to do anything that was over-adventurous. And then we had a massive house fire. As I was standing there, watching the house burn to the ground, I was quite devastated. I took a little visiting card out of my pocket and wrote down that I was going to start my own jewellery business. It was the most hopeless time to have such a dream because I had nothing. But I found a backer and within a year I opened my first shop.” Today the Michael Hill jewellery chain has 212 stores throughout the world.

This act of inspiration provides a timely message to us all that behind a crisis lies the greatest opportunity and our current global financial crisis provides many possibilities for all of us.

Whether born or made, entrepreneurs have an inherent ability to think differently, to challenge the status quo and to surround themselves with truly exceptional people.

They also saw the approach to fiscal stimulus as a smart move but questioned the packages targeted to supporting big business operating with outdated models.

Overall, the clear message was they stand ready to make investments and take the risks that will help the global economy on the road to recovery.

For those investing in China and grappling with the current challenges may you find the encouragement and inspiration from those who have conquered and won.

If you would like a full copy of the report Economic crisis or opportunity – perspectives from the world’s leading entrepreneurs please email wendy.byrne@nz.ey.com

Joanna Doolan is the leader of the Ernst & Young China New Zealand business group and Florence Wong is a senior manager in this group. joanna.doolan@nz.ey.com florence.wong@nz.ey.com