Moving Forward

Crown’s been moving people around the world, not just furniture

Removal company has grown from three staff to 5,000

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 May, 2016, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 May, 2016, 10:00pm

Jim Thompson had just US$1,000 to his name in Japan in 1965, but with that modest amount of money, a desk and two staff, he set up Transport Services International, now known as Crown Worldwide.

Half a century on, the company has become one of the world’s largest removal companies. It operates in 60 countries with 5,000 staff worldwide and had a turnover of US$830 million last year.

To turn that US$1,000 into a US$830 million business took leadership and changes in society.

Thompson, now 76, was born and raised in the United States. He had no intention of being an entrepreneur but was very interested in Asia, so after graduating from university he went to Japan in 1964 with the initial plan of learning about its history and language. To make a living, he joined a small moving company in Yokohama and learned the basics of the business.

He fell in love with the moving business and decided to set up his own firm 1965. He could not afford a grand office, just a small desk and two hired staff to help move the household goods and belongings of expatriate business families in Tokyo.

Customers were used to paying after receiving service but Thompson managed to convince them to pay cash in advance, which helped the company have a better cash flow. He managed to make profit that first year and has done so ever since.

Five years later, in 1970, he came to Hong Kong and found it a much easier place to do business than Japan. He moved the company’s headquarters to Hong Kong that year, renaming it Crown to reflect the quality of its service.

The company then expanded globally: to Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Australia and North and South America. Many big multinationals including HSBC, Citibank and BP are among his clients, using Crown to move staff member’s furniture and belongings when they are relocated to overseas markets.

Thompson always reminds his staff that it is not furniture but people they are moving.

“For people who have to move to other countries for work or for migration, they feel stress,” he said. “It is our job to help them relax. We tell them how to pack up. We also help find schools for their children and how to apply to bring their pets with them. It is not a removal business but a people business.”

The company’s business reflects removal trends over the past five decades. In the 1960s and ’70s, it was usually Western firms moving staff to Asia after the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Then in the 1980s and ’90s, Crown moved a lot of Hong Kong families migrating to Australia, Canada and the US. Since the turn of the century it has moved many of them back to Hong Kong as the population flow reversed due to the growing Chinese economy.

In recent years, it’s been the turn of mainland Chinese and Indians, who’ve hired Crown to move them as they head to the West for migration or business development.

The company also serves museums wanting to move paintings and art works around the globe and also has warehouses where customers can store precious possessions.

Thompson has managed to stay very fit, exercising every morning, and still works. His daughter Jennifer and her three children are based in New York, where they handle the US business, while his son James Thompson Jr is based in Malaysia with three daughters who help handle the Asian business.

Of Irish extraction, one of Thompson’s next projects is to write a book about his ancestors in Ireland, a project started by his father.