|Mudar: A Chemistry PhD's Business Life|
|Foreigners in China|
The bold young man started with holding a note for job offers at the local airport and finally became the boss of a B2B website and a bilingual magazine.
When Mudar Abou Asi was offered a scholarship in 2005 to complete his masters and doctorate studies in China, he could not have foreseen what an important part the country, and in particular the city of Guangzhou, would come to play in his life.
Mudar grew up in a city south of Damascus, the capital of Syria. He spent some of his schooling in Libya, as his father worked as a teacher there for some time. He did well in his studies at Damascus University which won him the opportunity to travel to China to continue his studies in chemistry. The 3-months he spent looking for a job in vain before returning to study taught him that he could not rely on academic qualifications alone to earn a living. Furthermore, finding himself in the hustling bustling and business city boasting a long history of trade and the host of China's largest import and export fair, the graduate just could not keep himself away from the business world.
The young Syrian showed a real flare for business with a little trick he implemented to make contacts in Guangzhou. Whilst he was still studying at Sun Yat-sen University, he would await flights from the Middle East at the new Baiyun Airport. There, he would be waiting with a smile and a sign in Arabic, offering his services for interpretation and business assistance. This bold and intuitive move allowed Mudar to make contacts ‘at source' and begin learning the way of the city as he accompanied traders and investors as they did business.
The Mudar we see now is a man with his fingers in many pies. He initially ventured out into export whilst still studying. "I saw that I was in the perfect position. I had knowledge of the language, knowledge of the city so [I] began helping people facilitate trade."
These early forays into business taught him a lot. "I soon came to realize what a brilliant city Guangzhou is to do business in -- I witnessed first hand contacts and deals being made across the city, by people from a number of different industries. And I learnt a lot."
After finishing his PhD in 2011 he put well-constructed plans of setting up his own businesses into action. The time coincided with the peak of the financial crisis. He received warnings from friends and relatives, but the young Syrian was determined. Although he knew about the city, the astute student performed extensive market research as to where would be the best place to begin his ventures.
"Three things made me sure Guangzhou was the right choice. The first is that it has a long history of trade but is still an active area. The second is that costs [here] are lower than somewhere like Beijing or Shanghai. The third is the Canton Fair -- you can't compete with the sort of exposure and contacts the trade fair gives you twice a year."
With this conviction and determination despite the warnings, Mudar set up his two main businesses in 2009: An international B2B website to facilitate business and a bilingual English and Chinese magazine.
To assist buyers and sellers in international trade and communication, Mudar and his team developed Mamarow.com. This allows for communication between buyers, agents and suppliers. The website has over 2,000 companies and agents from around the world registered, and employs 25 members of staff.
Another reason Mudar has full faith in Guangzhou is the booming local market. "I believe that this is the main reason China is so attractive for business. Of course the overseas market has an effect [due to the economic crisis], but the local market is strong enough to compensate."
It's this new generation of socially mobile affluent Chinese people in the city that led Mudar to his other main venture, In The Red magazine. The magazine provides quality editorials on luxury lifestyle, art and fashion in Guangzhou. Mudar has a strong belief in targeting these high-end readers, both foreigners and local. "Chinese people, especially in Guangzhou, are getting wealthier, so their interest in culture, art, fashion and design is expanding. That's part of the reason we have made the choice to print some of the articles in both English and Chinese."
Mudar is clearly in Guangzhou for the long haul. "We are based here and we are doing good business. We are planning to expand our business to other places, but we will certainly leave branches here in Guangzhou."
The Syrian admits that Guangzhou does have its downsides that could put others off doing business in the city. "Things like pollution and infrastructure are a major disadvantage. I know that eventually I will move out of the city center for this reason. Also the rising cost of living is a concern, if it continues to increase it will detract from investment."
Mudar is very happy in Guangzhou and has a large network of deep friendships; even his brother has come to join him here. Coming from a traditional Muslim family, and wanting to please his mother, he always knew he would marry a Syrian woman. This, however, hasn't stopped him having one important relationship with a Cantonese woman. The relationship was incredibly positive and has taught him that "a human is a human -- they are not defined by the color of their skin or their nationality."
The businessman's deep respect for China and in Guangzhou is most profound in the high regard he gives to Sun Yat-sen University. He still lives right next door to the university and counts the many friends he made there, both teachers and fellow students as pivotal to his success and what he has learnt in Guangzhou. "None of this could have been done without the university and the people I met there. I'm so grateful to them for all the support, encouragement and advice I have received."
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