By Johan Nylander
In business schools, the potential leaders of tomorrow are taught that every business project starts with a plan; a strategy based on market research and data analysis. But for most entrepreneurs and start-ups, that’s not the case.
A new photojournalism book and online project by The Global Institute for Tomorrow, a Hong Kong–based think tank, feature 100 unique stories about entrepreneurs from 95 countries.
By highlighting everyday businesspersons, the organisation aims to show the true faces of those responsible for creating the majority of jobs around the world. Although these people aren’t likely to find themselves on the world’s rich lists or celebrity websites, they are the ones that hold the global economy together.
"Here are people who have never written a formal business plan, hired an investment bank, planned an exit strategy or even dreamt of a stock market floatation”, said Chandran Nair who headed the project called The Other Hundred Entrepreneurs.
“Some work for themselves, others employ a few people, still others a few hundred. These are the people behind the statistic that small and medium-sized businesses contribute half of all jobs in Africa and two-thirds in Asia."
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are a very important part of Asia’s economy. In China, they account for around 80 percent of manufacturing employment and are estimated to create 80 percent of new urban employment. In Southeast Asia, SMEs make up about 96 percent of all firms.
A global survey published in Harvard Business Review concluded that about 70 percent of those entrepreneurs who had a successful exit – that is, an IPO or sale to another firm – did not start with a business plan. Most important, the authors concluded, was for the entrepreneurs to have “heart, smarts, guts, and luck”.
Here are three unique cases of entrepreneurs from China:
Photographer: Robin Mas
Who wouldn’t want to work at Internet search company Baidu , China’s answer to Google GOOGL -0.05%? Song Xin and Luo Gaojing for two, both of whom quit jobs as finance officers to open a snack shop just around the corner from their old office in north-west Beijing’s Wudaokou district.
After mastering the art of making the perfect roujiamo – a kind of meat sandwich based on a traditional snack from Shaanxi, a province 800 kilometres south-west of the Chinese capital – they started testing it on the same people they had once worked with. It was an instant hit, and within a few weeks their shop had become the must-visit place for local IT workers looking for a filling snack.
Song and Xin have now opened a second shop in Beijing, and already have plans to build a nation-wide chain within a few years.
XIAHE COUNTY, GANSU, CHINA
Photographer: Tashi Dorjee
Ma Xiancheng, 66, has worked at the entrance to Labrang Monastery in Gansu’s Xiahe County in west China for more than 30 years. Arriving each day at eight o’clock in the morning, he stays at his stall, repairing boots and shoes for monks and other people living nearby, until six o’clock in the evening.
Labrang Monastery, founded in 1709, is one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most important monasteries outside Tibet. At its heyday, it had more than 4,000 monks. After being forced to close during China’s Cultural Revolution, it reopened in 1980, and is now home to 1,500 monks.
CAUSEWAY BAY, HONG KONG
Photographer: Leo Kwok
Raymond Lun runs his fashion store on Haven Street, a quiet back street just a few hundred metres from the heart of Causeway Bay, one of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping districts. A fashion designer and tailor, after graduating from fashion design school, he worked with a local tailor for six years, then went and lived in Australia for a year.
Returning to his hometown five years ago, he decided to launch his own brand of tailor-made suits and leather shoes for men. The first several months were tough for a “no-name” fashion designer, but slowly his designs and craftsmanship attracted recognition. Now in his mid-30s, his clients include a handful of local celebrities and performing artists.