Toby Chu knows the secret to doing business in China: persistence. Thankfully, that's his greatest business strength. The president of Capital Alliance, the merchant banker behind the CIBT, the Canadian Institute of Business & Technology (#36), arrives at work every morning at seven. He watches markets unfold on his four computer monitors. Only at 11 p.m., after a late-night review of the day's events, does he call it quits.
His diligence has paid off. Chu is willing to wait for the right opportunities for his VC business, which provides funding for projects, then manages them until maturity. Right now, Capital's main interests require an e-securities software business and CIBT, a trio of Beijing business schools. His most recent deal, with a Hong Kong firm interested in purchasing his e-securities software, was inked only weeks ago. "I've been in discussions with them for nearly two and a half years," he says.
It's taken that kind of patience to weather the infamous trade problems, such as vanishing inventories and delayed payments, that have made China such an unpopular destination for foreign investors. Chu believes it's a market ready to boom. That's why he's happy to lie in wait, developing contacts and establishing a reputation until it comes alive.
Toby Chu on education: "You get paid upfront, you have no receivables and you have no inventory."
Chu entered the Chinese market in 1994, five years after the Tiananmen Square massacre, he says "when the cost of establishing business in China was at its lowest ever."
In Beijing he established CIBT, which delivers MBA programs and Western-style business education for Chinese executives. He says it was a low-risk way to enter the Chinese market: "You get paid upfront, you have no receivables and you have no inventory." Now with three campuses, CIBT has become a cash cow for Capital Alliance, which derives 75% of revenues ($2.5 million in 2001) from the business.
Getting there hasn't been easy. "Dealing with government officials takes a lot of time," notes René Champagne, chairman and CEO of ITT Educational Services Inc., which recently partnered with Chu to add IT courses to CIBT. "Chu and his staff have been very persistent with them. That's what it takes to break into a market like this."
With China tagged to host the 2008 Summer Olympics and its acceptance into the World Trade Organization, Chu believes the payoff is coming sooner rather than later: "You have to have the patience and grind it out."