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Taxi Driver with Business Acumen

Local cab driver Zang Qin has inspired his peers and the business community with his innovative practices and has just given an MBA lecture to a Microsoft executive and his employees.

He now finds himself in the media spotlight after the executive published Zang's story on his blog.

Zang's stable 8,000-yuan (US$1,000) monthly income for the past six or seven years has surprised fellow cabbies, who usually earn between 2,000-3,000 yuan (US$250-370) per month when they work 16-hour days.

"I still cannot believe he could make 8,000 yuan a month and I don't know any others making that much," said Yi Zhaolian, a cabbie from the Qiangsheng Co, the largest taxi fleet in Shanghai.

But some of the 42-year-old's business practices, such as judging who might be a long-distance passenger, have been criticised as "unethical" by some local residents, and even "immoral."

On Saturday, Zang will appear on "Fortune Life," a Shanghai Television programme that interviews only the richest people in China.

"I was told I would be the first 'average Joe' on this programme. They thought my business concept was valuable," Zang told China Daily yesterday.

He said that other taxi drivers who find it hard to believe he could make 8,000 yuan a month have not explored his way of doing business.

When Microsoft executive Liu Run got into Zang's cab he was amazed by his conversation with the driver, who spoke in detail about the cost of running a taxi, his analysis of customers and the market.

"He talked like a cost control expert and his analysis of customers was exactly what MBA professors call 'putting yourself into others' shoes,'" said Liu in an article posted on his personal blog.

The Microsoft executive persuaded Zang to speak to his colleagues. Zang's 45-minute talk brought the house down, and was interrupted eight times by applause.

"I have studied the business for 17 years. Choosing the slowest time for dinner could mean several hundred yuan difference in a month. If you have 10 items like this, you could make a lot more money," said Zang.

Zang's other tips include taking good care of his car to avoid paying for unnecessary repairs, paying attention to traffic information to avoid jams, and seeking out information on exhibitions and other opportunities that might bring him business.

Zang defended criticism of his business practices, saying he has simply followed the law of economics, without violating relevant regulations. Zang's company, Shanghai Dazhong New Asia Taxi Co Ltd, has no record of any passenger complaints against Zang.

"If I saw an elderly person or someone with a disability, I would not hesitate to give them priority," he said.

Local sociologists and management experts have both expressed support for Zang.

"The case shows Zang's good understanding of his business," said Gu Jun, a sociology professor at Shanghai University.

"Business is not charity. You can do charity work at the weekend. But in business, the goal is to maximize profits," said Gu.

Gu sees criticism of Zang's work practices as a matter of putting too much social responsibility onto one individual.

Gu Xiaoming, a professor of history and management at Fudan University, said Zang's case challenged the current MBA educational models.

"It shows that ordinary people can comprehend something at the level of an MBA. There are plenty of paradoxes in business practice, dogmatic MBAs are useless," said Gu Xiaoming, who also teaches in the MBA at Fudan.

But he said the street wisdom of the taxi driver would not be useful at a complicated strategic level.

Despite many messages on the Internet saying Zang's talent is wasted as a taxi driver, he has no plans to change his job.

"I just want to be the happiest and most well-cultivated cab driver in Shanghai. Once you're famous or doing management work, pressure and anxiety will come to you," he said.

(China Daily April 4, 2006)

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