Both Jasmine Ma and Han Li applied to be Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women scholars to take their businesses to the next level. Already running Childyard Kindergarten, a successful kindergarten in Beijing, Ma gained operational knowledge and the confidence to begin franchising her school to cities across China. Li founded Ihong, an environmental and technology supply company based in Tianjin, in 2002. Li learned how to find new clients and expand her business. Both women credit the Goldman Sachs program, run jointly by Tsinghua University in Beijing and HEC International Business School in Paris, for giving them the tools to expand their expertise and embrace new opportunities in China’s growing market.
Tapping into the School System
Ma studied early childhood education and worked for years as a headmaster before founding Childyard in 2008. She developed a new teaching method that centers around helping parents to better interact with their children. “We work on a range of issues — from a child suffering from a disability to those who are simply having trouble focusing or sitting still,” says Ma. Before Ma purchased Childyard, only 50 pupils were enrolled in the school. Today her teaching method is so popular that 200 children between the ages of six months and six years are enrolled.
The 10,000 Women program helped Ma develop presentation skills to find potential partners as she looked to expand her school to middle-class communities outside of Beijing — in cities such as Tianjin, Guangzhou and Jinan. One key growth component involved learning how to divide her business into three parts: administration, training and research. For example, she created an operational manual outlining 123 working standards for teachers. As Ma’s business grows, the manual helps teachers identify with the spirit of her company and understand its guidelines — such as one that requires teachers to hug every child each morning. Before the program, Ma did not know how to read a financial report. Now she understands her daily costs, factoring in everything from new furniture and books to human resource expenses.
Ma is currently opening three more kindergartens in Beijing. “Before, I thought a lot more would be more trouble, but now I understand operations better,” she notes. She also learned key pricing strategies. While costs increased with the addition of new teachers, she never raised prices. The program taught her that she could set a price of 2,500 RMB a month for two years, allowing only for fluctuations in food prices. However, it is acceptable to raise prices for new students coming in as her business and staff grow. “I learned that for a new customer, it can be a new way, but for an old customer, you stick with the old way,” she says. Ma currently manages 34 teachers, and says that if a kindergarten is operated well, she can start to earn a profit within six months to a year.
Building a Greener China
China recently became the largest user of energy in the world. Li’s company, Ihong, consults with businesses to introduce more environmentally friendly equipment into Chinese factories and construction projects. “While China is catching up in building more environmentally friendly equipment, there is still a lot they can learn from foreign [industrial equipment manufacturers], such as Hoval, Danfoss and Roca,” says Li. “The type of air conditioning and heating systems being used makes a big difference not only in projects’ energy consumption, but in their quality too,” Li notes. She cites the example of how one building that is close to a heating station may be too hot, while one farther away in the same complex can be too cold.
Ihong has helped Dynasty Fine Wine, China’s leading premier wine producer, save money in operating costs at its Tianjin factory by installing more environmentally efficient machinery, including imported boilers. Li says that while machinery from countries such as Italy, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland may be more expensive than those made locally, it requires less fuel and helps reduce electricity costs.
When she was first starting out as an entrepreneur, Li landed Dynasty as a client through her connections from years spent working in factories and for her father-in-law’s engineering business. However, she was not able to cultivate more clients to help her business grow. The 10,000 Women program helped her do this by teaching her how to target customers that, like Dynasty, are able to afford more expensive equipment. She is now targeting high-end hotels, factories and corporations, and anticipates expanding her business.