The Northwest Asian Weekly presents the Visionary Awards Gala, an event honoring visionaries in the APA community, on Oct. 18.
By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Ben Zhang does not believe in luck when it comes to business. Zhang believes in hard work, executing a vision, and from that luck will come. Zhang’s business acumen and work ethic has made him a very successful entrepreneur as he has built his company, Greater China Industries, into one of the top import/export businesses in its industry.
Zhang was born and raised in Yangzhou, China. He came to the United States to study at the University of Washington as an International Student. Zhang studied Economics and took many Businesses courses within the Business School from 1993 to 1995.
In addition to his degree in Economics from the University of Washington, he holds an Executive MBA from Cornell and is a graduate of the Executive Education Program at Harvard University.
In his last year at the UW, Zhang worked part time at the China First restaurant near the University of Washington and at JC Penney during school to make ends meet. He got one job offer, but Zhang thought he could do better than that.
Being an entrepreneur was “in my blood” according to Zhang. Instead of taking the one job offered to him after graduation, he decided to try his hand at starting his own venture.
Zhang distinctly recalls the class that catapulted his career: Business Policy 471 with professor Shannon Hauser, in Zhang’s last quarter before graduation. One of the assignments was to write a business plan for class.
“I wrote the business plan and then I executed it,” said Zhang. The plan consisted of an import/export business that would sell materials to distributors.
Zhang rented a booth at a trade show at the Seattle Convention Center to sell materials to distributors. He obtained left over materials from contacts in China. On the last day of the show, he struck a deal with a distributor who had Washington Mutual as one of its customers.
However, without much money, Zhang requested that his newfound customer pay half of the purchase order prior to his delivery of goods. At the time, Zhang did not have enough money to run the orders.
“They laughed,” recalled Zhang. “I had $770 in my bank account.”
But he did not give up. Zhang went back to his Business Policy textbook to a chapter on Letters of Credit. Zhang photocopied this chapter and gave the copies to his customers.
Despite the scholarly evidence of security, Zhang’s first customers still wanted a reference. Zhang called Hauser, his business policy professor, to vouch for him. His professor gave a glowing recommendation on his behalf and the deal went through.
Hauser later told Zhang that he believed in him, Zhang said.
“It was really encouraging,” said Zhang of the trust that was put in him.
And from that meager start in 1995, Zhang’s import/export business grew. He hired seven sales people in his first two years in business. He moved his office from his guest bedroom to an actual office space and he even managed to hire his old supervisor from his days working part time at JC Penney.
David Chau of Cathay Bank has watched Zhang develop his business for more than 15 years, when Zhang first came to him for advice on banking services.
“Ben Zhang is an ambitious and big thinker,” Chau said. “He has received so many awards for Asian Business Leadership and I am sure this will not be his last.”
Tom Chang, senior vice president and regional director of East West Bank had similar praise for Zhang.
“Ben Zhang is driven and always competes to be the best in everything he does,” Chang said.
Zhang’s business, Greater China Industries offers custom original equipment manufacturing in China for U.S. Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing, Amazon.com and Costco. Zhang’s business provides promotional products for companies such as shirts, custom figures, pizza cutters and piggy banks with the company logo on it. Zhang notes that many companies spend up to $20 million in marketing needs in a year and it is a $19 billion dollar industry overall. Greater China Industries is one of the top suppliers in the U.S. and is one of the top 40 in the industry.
Zhang has 35 employees in the United States with an office in Bellevue. He has another 20 employees in China.
“I don’t need to be big. We just need to make sure we’re productive and meet the bottom line.”
Zhang also believes that treating employees well is good for business.
“Treat employees like you treat your customers,” Zhang explains, “If you do not treat them nice, it reflects the way they are going to treat your customers.”
Sheryl Willert, the managing director of law firm Williams Kastner, said that dedication to doing what’s right is part of what makes him successful.
“Ben Zhang has dedicated himself to doing that which is right for his family. Not just his immediate family, but for his larger family: his employees, his customers and his friends,” she said.
Zhang enjoys the creativity involved in his business.
“I’m a hands-on CEO,” said Zhang. “You have to have new ideas to stay and maintain. Otherwise competitors will knock you out.” (end)
The Visionary Awards Gala is Oct. 18 at China Harbor Restaurant from 6–9 p.m. Tickets are available for $70 before Oct. 15 and $80 afterwards. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.