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Blending Scholarship and Business
Yang Guisheng, a Shanghai-based scientist, has been selected by the All-China Youth Federation as one of the "Top Ten Outstanding Youths of China in 2001" for his achievements.

Yang, 39, is one of the few specializing in engineering plastic in China. The field produces plastic for various industries.

Peers jokingly call him China's "King of Engineering Plastic."

But Yang prefers to call himself "a reckless adventurer with some creative talent."

Yang was lauded by the selection committee for setting a good example for China's scientists and researchers and Yang "has successfully welded research with the commercialization of research results, an ability many Chinese scientists lack, which is important to boost the country's economy."

In 1992, Yang quit a respected researching post at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and with only 2,000 yuan (US$244) in his pocket, he opened his own company, the Shanghai Genius Advanced Materials Co Ltd.

Genius has won Yang both fame and fortune and has "put China in an advantageous position in engineering plastic science which was believed to be at least 20 years behind the most advanced technological developments in this field," the selection committee said.

In nine years, Genius has netted 100 million yuan (US$12.2 million) in profits.

Besides business success, Yang's company has also obtained 25 national patents and published more than 30 theses on engineering plastic science, most of which fill China's gaps in this field.

Occupying more than 30 percent of the domestic market share of engineering plastic products, the items manufactured by Genius are widely used in the country's industries including the automobile, aerospace, electrical appliance and telecommunication industries.

Favored by industrial giants such as Haier, Volkswagen and Sharp, Genius products have reportedly saved US$170 million in foreign exchange for China, replacing more expensive imported products.

When he graduated from the Department of Chemical Industry at Hefei Industrial University in 1984 with honors, Yang found himself confronted with a life-changing decision: Should he continue with his studies or find a job?

As a top student at the university, Yang was offered a fellowship that would allow him to pursue further studies in Germany, a rare opportunity for a Chinese student in 1980s China.

He shocked his friends when he turned down the offer.

"Of course, I longed for a chance to study abroad. However, if every graduate walked away from his motherland, domestic scientific research in China would remain weak and immature when compared with developed nations," Yang explained.

He stayed and successively passed the master's degree entry examination at CAS in Beijing that year.

In 1990, he became one of the first to hold a doctorate in engineering plastic in China after his thesis defense was acclaimed by all the scholars on his thesis panel.

Coincidentally, just as Hefei Industry University did, CAS also wanted to send him to Germany, this time, to work as a postdoctoral researcher.

But Yang declined again, saying he wanted to "do something more in his field."

The products of engineering plastic play a special role in developed countries, which account for 10 percent of all plastic products.

However in China, the proportion is less than 1 percent. By contrast, China produced less than 10,000 tons of products of engineering plastic per year, forcing it to spend 20 billion yuan (US$2.44 billion) to import 1.2 million tons of engineering plastic every year.

"I wanted to change these figures," Yang said.

In the following two years, Yang finished several more formidable research topics and became a research fellow at CAS.

He was also appointed as the director of the research group for key national projects in the Eighth Five Year Plan (1991-95).

New business

When Yang started his business in 1992, few of his colleagues were convinced that his gentle manner and frail-looking demeanor could succeed in business, Yang recalled.

"It's good to turn scientific research into a product, but not every excellent scientist can become an excellent entrepreneur," Yang said.

Some friends tried to persuade Yang to leave, some even predicted his failure.

"You can return anytime. We will save the position for you,'' CAS academics promised, Yang recalled.

With 2,000 yuan (US$244) from CAS, Yang went to Shanghai and opened Genius.

With such a low budget, Yang tried any means possible to promote his products. "Just as an old Chinese saying goes: Everything is hard in the beginning," Yang admitted.

Yang knew little about product introduction, presentation or business negotiations.

At the same time, he had to concentrate on developing new products, vital to the future development of his company.

In his spare time, he poured over books on business administration to be a better leader for his company.

"My company was then small and unknown, so we had to work twice as hard," Yang said.

"Once, while negotiating with a township company, I had to drink a full of glass of wine to express my sincerity," Yang recalled.

He worked so hard and was twice affected with gastrorrhagia and sent to hospital.

Ambitious leader

Under Yang's leadership, Genius is developing quickly, and both fixed assets and sale volumes increased by 190 percent a year.

So far, its annual sales volume has reached 460 million yuan (US$56 million).

He owes the success to his strong team, Yang said, which includes 300 employees, nearly half of whom have master's or doctoral degrees and 32 percent have work experience in transnational companies.

Yang said a teamwork spirit is encouraged in the company.

"We always learn something new from each other through exchanging ideas. Teamwork is important," Yang said.

Yang also tutors three post-graduate students.

"When I talk with my students, I always get new ideas. We learn how to learn from others, so the team will be active and creative," he explained.

At present, Genius has established a strategic partnership with some well-known domestic and overseas companies to be informed of the latest changes in the market.

"We manufacture products the market demands dictate. With information from partners pouring in, the research and development center churns out new products as quickly as possible," Yang said.

Meanwhile, Yang has invested in the re-education of his employees, providing them with training opportunities and exchange programs at home and abroad.

Yang's efforts have finally paid off. One out of 60 employees in the company has created at least one patented product.

Fruits of labor realized

His nine years of experience have turned Yang from a business novice to an experienced entrepreneur.

In the early years of his company, he shouldered multiple roles - general manager, salesman, negotiator and researcher.

When Genius went public in 1993, he became director of the board.

"We can't run a company like a small workshop. A modern Chinese high-tech company must step on the track of international practices and regulations," Yang said.

(China Daily March 29, 2002)

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