It is doubtful if anyone in Hong Kong has a curriculum vitae to match that of John Lin Chun-hung. Born in Hong Kong, his early life followed a well-trodden path, being sent off to school in the United States, aged 10. He graduated from the University of San Francisco in business studies, but rejected a job with Macy's department store in favour of a position as sales manager for specialist California wholesaler Saga Musical Instruments because of his musical interests. As one of the first companies to import guitars and banjos from China, Mr Lin's challenge was to overcome customer resistance. 'Oh, Chinese-made,' was the typical sneering reaction. 'Interestingly, how times have changed, people don't talk about that any more,' says Mr Lin, 39. In the meantime his father in Hong Kong had started a business with a Thai partner exporting garments to Poland. They were doing a roaring trade and eventually Mr Lin succumbed to their pleas and agreed to set up their eastern Europe office. 'I said to myself 'Hey, I'm young', and off I went.' He took a crash course in Polish, but found it much harder than Spanish, French and German which he had already learnt. 'I thought it would be just another European language - how wrong I was.' He arrived in a small town between Krakow and Warsaw expecting two Polish partners, but they baled out as soon as he appeared. 'Whatever Polish expertise we were supposed to get evaporated.' His only choice was to run the operation solo, with his father as financial backer and supplier. That proved a mixed blessing. 'Having your family as supplier kind of sucks, because you can't fire them. You have bad quality, as sometimes happens, but you're stuck with it.' He was fluent in Polish after two years and stayed for four, braving a country still dominated by socialist policies, red tape and overzealous officials. 'If you are a foreign company, they really go by the book. I was audited not just by the normal inland revenue people, but by the tax police, too. Even the fire brigade came to check my hoses.' Finally, exasperated by ever-changing tax laws, his thoughts turned to Hong Kong and, accompanied by his Polish fiancee Dominika, he headed home. But having left aged 10, coming back felt like emigrating for a third time. It was more subtle than a question of whether he felt Chinese or not. 'Once you're born Chinese, you always are. But I wasn't coming back as Chinese-American, I felt Chinese-American/eastern European.' His first Hong Kong job as a real estate agent lasted two weeks. He hated it. His second foray as sales agent for a Finnish zipper manufacturer was more successful. He was surprised to find a European company beating Asian competitors such as the giant Japanese YKK Fastening Products Group. 'YKK had a lead time of 90 days. We were faster and we had more styles and were the same price. But we offered customer service, not 'take it or leave it'.' Mr Lin was able to win over YKK customers who were fed up with the lack of attentiveness and choice. 'I learnt how to get a lot of business by exploiting weakness. This is possible even in Asia. It's not just about price.' Three years later he graduated from zippers to join local quality bag manufacturer Wistar Enterprises, which gave him the opportunity to design a stylish niche line for musical instruments. 'Everything before was black. I said let's be sporty, so I devised the equivalent of a Nike sports bag that carries your guitar.' The line did well, he says, but petered out when he left the company and no one replaced him. 'Basically it died off. I should have seen earlier that I was putting all this work into it, but the brand wasn't mine.' Parting was painful. 'It was like a baby to me, I really nurtured it: the designs, the road shows. People still ask me for it, but I have to say sorry, it wasn't my brand.' By 2001 his new challenge was a professional one: how to become 'mainland China-interface-able.' That meant learning Putonghua. 'That's the key to the rest: the social etiquette and the relationship building. I thought if I could master Polish, I could cope with Putonghua.' After Wistar, he took the plunge and set up Pazinda Creative Enterprises in 2002, making and designing fashion accessories, handbags and belts in China for continental European fashion chain store brands. 'You don't need to sell to the whole world, just where you have a competitive advantage, and that's eastern Europe, where I think I can still make good money.' He has an office here and in Guangzhou and plans to triple his business in five years and expand the staff of four here to six, and from one to three over the border. The mainland office focuses on production quality control and liaison, vital for improving client satisfaction, he says. Quality problems impede the bottom line. His wife is fashion director and her help is invaluable, especially when presenting their own ideas to clients. 'It's no longer enough just to offer value and quality,' he says. 'Now you need creative input, that sets you apart, you can't just survive on 'Hey, I'm cheap'.' This year he will attend trade fairs in Poland, confident of getting new accounts. The ice-breaker is the language, he says. 'What makes me successful is I'm able to build trust and relationships quickly because I'm a Chinese-American who speaks Polish.' Not many people can say that.