Zhang Bingjun met probably the biggest challenge in his career last year when his company was caught in a serious cash crunch. "I had to find funds equivalent to 100 million yuan (HK$122 million) each day. If we failed to do that, our company's name would appear on a blacklist of the central bank and banks would stop lending to us," the chairman of state-backed Teda Investment Holding told the South China Morning Post. Zhang's case shows the damage done to "China Inc" by a slowing of the country's economy that has gone on for six consecutive quarters - dipping from a peak of more than 10 per cent annual growth in the past decade to less than 8 per cent. The weakest performance in three years, which has forced many small private businesses to close, also has hurt state-owned enterprises such as Teda, a conglomerate with 180 billion yuan in assets, based in Tianjin. Teda's businesses range from property, manufacturing and utilities, to financial and logistics services. It controls the power, water, gas, and urban transport networks in the Binhai New Development Zone, an area established for the creation of high-end industries and services. It also owns controlling stakes in companies including Tianjin Pipe, the nation's largest producer of crude pipes, Bohai Bank, hotel chains and a soccer club. Traditionally, leaders of state-owned enterprises do not worry much about business returns when making investment decisions, thanks to relatively low-cost loans and easy access to land as well as other subsidies from the government. Zhang, 49, with a background in engineering, said he had thought too little about the "toughness and complexity" of running Teda when appointed general manager six years ago. He vowed to city leaders then: "Give me eight years, I will make Teda a national brand." Before his dream could come true, however, "all kinds of problems exploded", forcing him to worry about the company's survival, said Zhang, who became chairman in January last year. The cooling property market, the government's move to rein in credit supply, and Teda's own excessive expansion combined to create a credit crunch. "One day, when we were discussing how to repay a two billion yuan loan due [the next day], my finance chief suddenly told me there's another billion-yuan loan awaiting repayment the day after," he said. "It's always one billion yuan after another. Very horrible." To make things worse, rumours surfaced that Teda's funding might crash and some assets be taken over by the city government, Zhang said. Bankers' confidence was shaken. For two months, Zhang had to visit the city's more than 20 banks daily to reassure them. Unlike in the past when his visits had focused mostly on forging new deals over meals and wines, Zhang instead had to be armed with his next five-year plan to convince lenders of Teda's future and get agreement to extend loan repayments. He also made a bold decision to cut investment and leave all property businesses outside the Binhai Zone, even though some of the projects were in good shape. Following central government action, the mainland's property market has cooled rapidly, with last year's home sales growth the lowest in three years. "Our priority was to survive," Zhang said. "Cash flow is like our blood. We couldn't live a single day without it." Authorities at the Binhai Development Zone injected 750 million yuan into Teda's six billion yuan capital, aimed at shoring up bankers' confidence. The city government also called for some old debts owed by other state firms to be repaid to Teda and granted subsidies for some of Teda's projects such as light railways, he said. The steps helped Teda avoid late loan repayments. The company's net profit climbed 11 per cent in August from a year ago, although it still posted a 4 per cent decline in the first eight months of this year compared with last year, Zhang said. Heading a large state company differed sharply from his experience as an engineer, which Zhang said "had its own fun and produced rewards more easily". After graduating from the Xidian University in Xian, Zhang joined the Tianjin Optical Electrical Group, where an optic-fibre project won him national awards. At 33, he was promoted to head the parent company. After helping Teda survive its "worst period" last year, Zhang said he would further consolidate and boost the services business. And his dream of cultivating a national brand remains intact. "To me, Teda should be a brand that delivers the image of a dynamic, rational, and responsible company."