Businesses lead the way for economy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 May, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 May, 1994, 12:00am

PRIVATE enterprises and entrepreneurs have been pitching in to fuel Wuhan's economic locomotive for the past 15 years.

Not only do they turn their own businesses into successes, but some also help relieve the city of the burden imposed by dilapidated state enterprises.

Li Yu'an, one of the city's wealthiest men, bought a loss-making, 98-year-old state-owned match plant last September.

He was the first private entrepreneur in China to buy a state enterprise of medium-size or more - with annual production of 10 million yuan or more.

The 42-year-old proprietor of the city's biggest private enterprise has all the tokens of affluence typical on the mainland: two residences, two cars and seven mobile phones, to name just a few.

His company, Wuhan Dadi Science and Technology (Holdings) Co, the first private enterprise in Wuhan, is engaged in research, manufacturing and trading of a range of products including computer-related and plastic goods.

The match plant gives it 18,000 square metres of production space for Dadi's goods, compared with the present rented production space of 700 sq metres.

Mr Li is looking to buy more state enterprises to expand his enterprises.

Claiming to control assets worth about 30 million yuan - high by China standards - he is a big spender. Last month he donated one million yuan to charities.

Mr Li said one of the keys to success was a flexible operation, which saved it from falling into the doldrums during depressed economic cycles.

''For example, we can make a decision in three minutes and accept even small orders of about 50,000 yuan to 60,000 yuan. Also, I don't mind making a money-losing deal as long as I think connection with the buyer is important for future business. The small loss will lead to big gains in the future,'' he said. Physician-turned fashion manufacturer and seller Hu Pei makes a monthly profit of 200,000, about 1,000 times the pay she earned as a doctor.

The 32-year-old private enterprise proprietor started her business five years ago. ''I've always liked fashion. I hoped to accomplish something when I was alive. So I started selling fashion,'' she said. Now she has a factory with more than 80 workers, and has two wholesale shops with staff of about 30 in the Han Zheng Street Small Commodities Market. She has also set up retail counters at big department stores.

After graduating from a medical college, she worked as a physician at a government hospital before deciding to ''go down the sea'', a term which means becoming an individual entrepreneur. ''I borrowed money from friends and managed to pool together a few thousand yuan. I rented two counters to sell fashion sourced from Guangdong province. Later I started my own processing factory, with just 10 workers,'' she recalled.

Her operation grew into a private enterprise, and her wallet also swelled. Now she owns a 140 sq metre flat with three bedrooms. ''That's what I didn't even dare to imagine at the beginning. Getting a flat was even more difficult than finding a husband,'' she said.

Many individual entrepreneurs have also hit the road to wealth, giving rise to a saying among officials: ''When there are [financial] problems, see individual entrepreneurs.'' Toy wholesaler Yang Jianfen was named ''labour model'' by the municipal government this year, one of the first individual entrepreneurs to be accorded the honour.

She is said to be the biggest individual entrepreneur in toys in China with her 600 sq metre wholesale hall the biggest in central China. She also sells high-end gifts and flowers.

''I thought toys had a lot of potential. As people were getting richer they would buy toys for their young ones,'' she said. She launched an original promotion back in 1986 when she bought the wholesale hall in the Han Zheng Street Small Commodities Market.

''I gave 20,000 letters to passers-by, inviting them to place orders with me,'' she said. But she finds life much busier than when she was only a factory worker earning 75 yuan a month, not only because she now works 10 hours a day all year round, apart from a few days off at the Lunar New Year, but also because of the psychological burden. ''I'm a boss and also a worker. When I've sourced goods I worry if I can sell them. When I fail to source suitable products I get equally worried,'' she said. But the toughest ordeal came when she started a business with her family in packaging of plastic materials in 1981.

''I kicked off with only 90 yuan in hand, We didn't have adequate tools. We would deliver goods in our rest time so that the children could help after school. The means of transportation available was not as convenient as today and made things even harder. We carried the goods on our backs,'' she said. Although individual entrepreneurs are now looked upon as an important spoke in the state's economic wheel, they were objects of contempt in the few years after their emergence in 1979. ''People then thought individual entrepreneurs were a weird lot, mere side-kicks of the main economy,'' said Ms Yang.