CHOW Chung-kong is quite possibly the most powerful Chinese man in the Western world. Not only is he chief executive of the defence engineering group GKN, one of Britain's top 100 blue-chip companies, but as a manufacturer of world-beating defence equipment, he indirectly determines the fighting capability of some of the world's most powerful armies. The United Nations counts his firm as its leading designer and manufacturer of light and medium-armoured vehicles, and his famous Warrior fighting trucks have seen action in the Gulf War against Iraq and Bosnian peace-keeping missions. Mr Chow - known only as C.K. Chow in corporate Britain - also controls the controversial Westland Helicopter group, a company which is so closely associated to the fabric of British business that suggestions in 1986 that it should be sold to United States group Sikorsky prompted then defence minister Michael Heseltine to resign. Westland is a key manufacturer of helicopter fighting technology. It is the prime contractor for the Apache helicopter gunships being built for the British army, and is supplying an order for 12 Super Lynx naval helicopters for the South Korean Government. Aside from aerospace and defence, Mr Chow also presides over one of the largest manufacturers of car components, supplying virtually every top vehicle manufacturer in the world, from Ford to Volkswagen and Renault to Toyota. Mr Chow is also overseeing an aggressive expansion of GKN's powdered metallurgy business, which makes vehicle components by moulding powdered metals, and is regarded as a pioneer in industrial services, through the Chep distribution pallets and crates hire business. With a market worth of about GBP4.5 billion (about HK$58.97 billion), and steeped in 230 years of British heritage, it begs the question: Why choose Mr Chow to run GKN? The choice of a man whose father fled communist China after the defeat of the Nationalists to settle in Hong Kong is not a natural one. Mr Chow credits Harvard Business School and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, rather than Oxford or Cambridge, for his higher education, and he clings patriotically to his Hong Kong citizenship, and regards the territory as his home 'at the end of the day'. Mr Chow said GKN aimed at giving the company much more of a global view. 'I do have a unique background in the sense that I spent the most part of my professional career outside of my home,' he said. 'I have had an opportunity to have seen quite different business practices from Asia, Japan, the Far East, the United States and the United Kingdom, and get a wider understanding of how businesses are driven in different parts of the world. 'There is something different in my background that will be the key. The fact that I am from part of the Far East is unique, but not very relevant.' Nevertheless, within 10 months of Mr Chow's appointment, the company's executive committee, for the first time in GKN's history, met in Shanghai, where it was able to visit the company's latest investment on the mainland. Mr Chow also acknowledges that if there is one Chinese characteristic that he might bring to the company, it is the entrepreneurial style of management that characterises some of Hong Kong's most successful businessmen. 'I have been described as quite entrepreneurial throughout my professional career, and I think there is some truth in that, but on the other hand I am also a very hard-nosed businessman who manages the performance of the business and does not take risks lightly,' he said. Mr Chow also insists GKN is a global business, and although he might be perceived as having his greatest and most natural strengths in Asia, he is keen to develop GKN in all its markets. However, this is unlikely to mean that Asia risks being neglected. Among his most ambitious plans is to see turnover triple in emerging markets in five years. For Asia, this means transforming the region's contribution to GKN's total annual turnover of GBP3.3 billion from under 10 per cent now to well above that figure in the next 10 years. Among the flagship products for the group will be the further expansion of its car components manufacturing business, and in particular the sale of its pioneering constant velocity joints (CVJ). At GKN's recent executive committee meeting in Shanghai, directors of the company used the occasion to visit the new CVJ plant, which is to service Shanghai Volkswagen, the Citroen plant in Wuhan and the General Motors project in Shanghai. In addition to the new plant in Shanghai, a much older factory - the Shanghai GKN Driveshaft Company - was established in 1988, while last year, it also established the GKN Norinco Driveshaft Company in Jilin. The group is now in discussions to establish three other businesses in China, including another car components company, a powdered metals facility, and an aerospace manufacturing plant. Asia's burgeoning car components industry is an obvious target for GKN, and it already has a manufacturing capability in Malaysia, India and Korea, and supply contracts in Thailand and Japan, with further expansion planned. The growing security concerns of the region are also not lost on the company. In the Philippines, GKN has established the Asian Armoured Vehicle Technology Corp, which assembles armoured personnel carriers and armoured limousines. GKN's Westland is also well-represented in Asia. India, Pakistan and Australia already operate Westland Sea King helicopters, while Pakistan and Korea have Westland Lynx. Indonesia, the Royal Malaysian Navy and New Zealand fly Westland Wasps. The facts paint a dramatic picture. After being a powerful defence and engineering force in the Western world, GKN is looking to achieve similar status in the East. Given the dominance that mainland China is expected to command in global politics, economics and security in the next century, perhaps it is fitting that one of the world's leading engineering companies should also appear to reflect that. By putting CK Chow at the helm, the company looks as though it is hoping it can achieve a dominance in its field, similar to the global force predicted of China.