Any Other Business

By Feuchtwanger, Antonia | The Independent (London, England), September 11, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Any Other Business


Feuchtwanger, Antonia, The Independent (London, England)


THE STORY of Chance China is a fable of the rise of Asia. In 1991, Sir John Aird, Cotswold farmer and fourth baronet, inspired by the memory of the beautiful Chinese girl with whom he fell wildly in love as an Oxford undergraduate in the 1950s, helps out a refugee from China's Cultural Revolution and her English husband.

A decade later, despite the eclipse of the European economy by Asia's, Sir John's cattle graze peacefully on in Evenlode, Gloucestershire, thanks to the stream of dividends from his stake in China's explosive industrial success.

Only the first part of the fairy tale has unfolded so far. Sir John, who tells people that he is an engineer, is in fact one of Britain's more successful venture capitalists and an investor to copy if you can.

He chairs Matcon, a maker of valves for industrial silos, founded in 1980 and now set to make profits of pounds 850,000. If, as Sir John intends, the company comes to the Stock Exchange next year, his original pounds 30,000 investment for 50 per cent of the company could be worth at least pounds 5m.

Most of his other investments are in engineering - including a failed company making ski-training machines pre-sold to Thomas Cook, the travel agents - and all so far have been in Britain.

The East never lost its allure, however. The girl at Oxford is long since married to someone in the City, and Sir John proposed the toast at her husband's 50th birthday (with a speech written by Lady Aird). But when Sir John read in Venture Capital Report, the Henley- based bible for business angels, of an export agency and financial consultancy based in Peking, Shanghai and London, he was quick to respond.

Chance China acts as agent for Western companies that want to invest in China. It carries out market research, promotes products and negotiates with local partners. Its chairman, Giles Chance, 43, joined the World Bank after an MBA on a Fulbright scholarship at the Ivy League Dartmouth College. At the bank he met Ying, now 39, who had left China as a teenager when her father, who teaches at Peking University, fled the Cultural Revolution.

The two subsequently decided to exploit their unusual combination of Western business ways and understanding of the world's biggest emerging market. "It's good for Ying to go back to China from time to time as our children are half Chinese," says Mr Chance. "China will be the world's biggest economy in 15 to 20 years," his wife points out.

Ying, previously an economist with Barclays, does more of the talking than her husband, has all the statistics at her fingertips and is the only one of the three directors who speaks Mandarin. Her faintly Dalek- like tones suggest absolute determination, and asked whether she minds returning to deal with a regime that has gone on to murder its people at Tiananmen Square, she prefers to focus on the inconvenience the massacre caused.

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