A child of China’s ‘miracle city’, Shenzhen
Palace is a Director of Rouse Consulting, based in our Shenzhen office. She provides a wide range of Management Consultancy services, from helping clients devise market entry strategies to providing advice on government innovation policies.
The city of Shenzhen, located on China’s south-eastern coast, just north of Hong Kong, has grown from a small fishing to an international, high-tech, powerhouse in just 40 years. No wonder it’s often referred to as China’s ‘miracle city’! It’s a remarkable story, and one that Palace witnessed at first hand. She saw the city grow up around her. Perhaps it’s not too fanciful to think that in the process she absorbed some of the vibrant, entrepreneurial spirit for which the city is famous.
Palace was born just after the launch of China’s reform and opening up policy, and the establishment of Shenzhen as one of the country’s first Special Economic Zones. All her family worked in the newly formed state-owned enterprises, her father and grandfather in a railway company, her mother in a printing company. They lived in apartments provided by the companies and Palace, an only child, attended one of the company nurseries. Later, she went to nearby schools – there weren’t many options – and grew up happily, without giving any thought for the future. At that stage, she says, she didn’t even know what ambition meant – she simply went to school and did as the teachers said.
Early on, however, when she was still in primary school, something happened that was bound to change her attitude. Her father, inspired by what he could see happening all around him, decided to leave his boring company job and set up his own business. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well and the family ended up in serious financial difficulty. Palace saw her mother accepting responsibility and working hard to support the family. It made a lasting impression. By the time she was in High School, she understood that her future was in her own hands, and that she would have to work hard.
After High School she attended Shenzhen Polytechnic for three years, winning a Bank of China sponsored 14-day trip to Europe in her second year. These trips were awarded to top students so that they could gain international experience. Palace had wanted to travel abroad when she was in High School, but her family couldn’t afford it, so this was a hugely exciting opportunity.
After graduating from the Polytechnic, she had to start working to help support her mother, and improve the family’s financial position. While working, however, she began studying part-time for a Bachelor’s degree in English from the Guandong University of Foreign Studies. The university is based in Guangzhou, but it provided courses at the weekend in Shenzhen, requiring students to attend the main campus only for all major exams.
When Palace graduated, the family’s financial position had improved, and she had been able to put aside some savings. At the time, there was an economic downturn and she could see senior staff, particularly women, losing their jobs. She thought she would need to be really good to prevent that ever happening to her, and decided it would be the perfect time to undertake further study in England. English had always been her favourite subject and she had always dreamt of going to England. Because of her work experience in international business and marketing, she enrolled in the MSc international Business & Management course at the University of Central Lancashire, one of the UK’s largest universities. Her parents had always supported her in whatever she wanted to do and, although it must have been difficult for them to see their only child leave, they encouraged her to go.
There was one complication though. She had been in a relationship with her now husband, Jeff, for three years – and she was 26 years old, which at the time was considered almost beyond marriageable age. What to do? She and Jeff decided they would get married before she went. Again, her parents were supportive of her decision – even though she remembers some of her mother’s friends advising against it.
The University of Central Lancashire is based in Preston, a city in England’s North West, with a population of only about 300,000, and Palace’s first impression was one of disappointment. This wasn’t the England of her dreams: certainly no Big Ben or Tower of London, no Grenadier Guards. But she was curious and keen to experience English culture and it turned out to be a very positive experience.
When she got back to Shenzhen, however, she couldn’t initially find a job any better than the one she had before she left, and that was very disappointing. But it took only a year for an exciting opportunity arose: the University of Central Lancashire decided to establish a research arm in Shenzhen. Palace was initially engaged to assist the Chief Scientist, but when she arrived he was not there; the company was an empty shell. She set about reviewing all the documents and, when she discovered there wasn’t even a business plan, began talking to people in the University, proposing ideas, and engaging with the Management and the Board. In the end she was engaged as General Manager of the company and in two years there was a team of five people supporting the University’s technology transfer to China, helping students find places in China, and helping the Chinese government identify potential high-tech projects in the UK and Israel that could be commercialised in Shenzhen.
At this point, she received an interesting offer from a large company that was about to set up research and commercialisation subsidiaries. The University project was up and running and this sounded like a new and exciting challenge. It turned out to be certainly challenging, but enormously rewarding as well: starting from scratch, after just 12 months, the company was employing nine people and had a turnover of 10,000,000 RMB (approx. US$ 1.5 million).
The work was rewarding, and again Palace was learning a lot, but she really didn’t want to continue working for a Chinese company, which inevitably involved working or attending business receptions in the evenings and working at weekends. Apart from the fact that she was also studying for a Doctorate of Business Administration from Durham University in the UK, she wanted to spend more time with her husband Jeff and their son Toby, who is now seven years old.
When she met Chris Bailey, a Principal of Rouse providing IP Management Consultancy services in Shanghai, she immediately saw the opportunity for developing similar services in Shenzhen. And the rest is history. Shenzhen’s vibrant and entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Palace. She’s always ready to embrace a new challenge - and determined to succeed.