Caroline Cheng, owner of the ottery Workshop, attached to the Fringe Club building in Central, appears to be firing from several kilns. Besides this ceramic studio and exhibition space that she took on in 1997 after teaching classes there for six years, Ms Cheng has cast two more business identities for her self: head of Shanghai Pottery Workshop, which she launched last year and director of a new trading company, Zheng Yi Trading (Shanghai) Company, which imports a range of American kilns and pottery equipment to Hong Kong and the mainland and exports Chinese ceramic-quality clay abroad. Yet the growth in Ms Cheng's business empire seems not to be inspired by personal gain. Take, for example, her unusual philosophy on profit-sharing. 'I believe the top earner in our company should not make more than seven times the lowest-paid person,' she says. 'My companies always put 5 per cent of our earnings back into the art community. Hopefully, this helps a few ceramic artists to work full time without worrying about where their next meal is coming from.' Ms Cheng says that when she took on the local workshop, her plans were culturally motivated: 'My plan was to curate interesting exhibitions and invite overseas artists working in ceramics in ways the Hong Kong public had never seen before, and to promote the art of making ceramics in general. 'The idea was to make money from classes to fund these shows and try some other creative projects.' The labour of love was not founded on a structured business plan, according to Ms Cheng: 'We had no budget behind us, and basically spent everything we earned on future events and exhibitions. 'The Fringe Club has increased our management fee (a rental equivalent) every year at a standard 6 per cent, regardless of economic depression, which has been hard. And the MPF also hurt us; last year it was so bad we were in the red for the first time in many years. This year has been difficult too, due to Sars. But I think the [Hong Kong] Workshop is picking up now.' Ms Cheng also holds programmes for some of Hong Kong's less fortunate people that further strain the coffers. Fortunately overheads are low. Few improvements in the space have been needed. Her studio-gallery staff has remained constant, comprising three part-time workers: accountant, gallery manager and technician - all artists who also teach classes - and three part-time teachers. 'We keep running costs low by offering studio time for work sometimes,' she says. Shanghai Pottery Workshop was set up in May last year. 'I found a beautiful old 3,000-square-foot factory, with wooden beams and floors for a very low rent!' Ms Cheng says. 'In China, private ceramic studios are rare. Since I know a lot of artists and university professors in the Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing areas, I thought it would be great to set up an operation, so that we could have a better dialogue with the artists there. As I have acquired the expertise to curate exhibitions, teach classes, administer and co-ordinate operations, it seemed a perfect time to go and do this.' This space houses a small gallery and shop and the c2 Gallery - multi-media space catering to larger exhibitions. 'Last year I invited six of the best Hong Kong artists to exhibit at c2 in conjunction with the Shanghai Biennale. It was very well received,' Ms Cheng says. 'In China, local governments are very supportive of the arts. Every day government officials from other provinces visit the Shanghai workshop. 'This summer we organised children's activities that saw over 400 children come to the Pottery Workshop for summer classes, thanks to a local government-subsidised scheme in Shanghai.' Ms Cheng says that at the end of its first year, the Shanghai operation was already turning a profit. Inquiries for high-quality ceramic equipment from artists and colleges in Shanghai, and for Chinese porcelain clay from overseas artists, inspired the trading company, established in Shanghai. Sourcing equipment, mostly from North America, took little time as she has built up such knowledge in furnishing and maintaining the two workshops. The clay comes from Jianxi province. 'Business has been brisk with these products,' she says, 'and I think we will be able to break even on our investment this year, if not make a profit.'