Updated: 2011-07-01 13:23
By Xiao Xiangyi (China Daily European Weekly)
Fireworks boss wants to blaze trail in industry
When the dazzling array of fireworks lit up Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium for the Olympic Games three years ago, the "truly exceptional" event wowed audiences worldwide.
For Zhao Weiping, it was a great sign of relief at a job well done.
Zhao is the chairman of pyrotechnics company Panda Fireworks Group. He was appointed executive commander at the fireworks headquarters of the Beijing Olympic Games.
The success of the Beijing Games meant a lot to Zhao and his group.
"The intangible value the Games added to Panda is hard to estimate," he says.
On Aug 8, 2008, right before the opening ceremony of the Games, Zhao himself was on his way to Tian'anmen Square. When he passed chairman Mao Zedong's portrait in the area, he made a wish to the late Chinese leader.
"This is not my own or my company's business; this concerns the country. I hope everything goes smoothly," Zhao wished.
Fireworks can be hard to control during production because they are partly made by hand. Accidents can happen due to any small errors during the production process.
But it was the Beijing Olympics then and safety had to be 100 percent
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave him one last chance to experiment in May, three months ahead of the sporting event. If Zhao and his Panda fireworks failed again, the Chinese fireworks show at the event would be omitted completely.
"You could never imagine the stress I felt then," Zhao says.
The IOC's standard for fireworks was high, but Zhao and his technical team found a way to continue the show.
They replaced the powder for the pyrotechnics with compressed air and traditional paper tubes with new materials, which produced almost no odor, smoke or residual materials. The shooting procedure was also programmed to ensure accurate positioning and safety.
Zhao began to prepare for the Olympic Games when it was still unknown whether there would be a fireworks display. He built a technical team with experts from the Beijing Institute of Technology and several other scientific research centers, with the aim of providing an environment to produce environmentally friendly fireworks.
"If an industry wants to survive, it has to be green," he says.
Zhao believes that when safety issues for a traditional industry like fireworks are solved, green moves can help it further develop.
"Low carbon is always the trend," he says.
"I am proud that 90 percent of the innovation in the industry here came from our team and we will continue to invest in new technology," Zhao says.
He also invests about 2 million yuan (218,200 euros) on a "creativity workshop" made up of more than 10 people.
During the Guangzhou Asian Games last year, audiences were treated to a Chinese character for "goat" formed by fireworks in the sky. Guangzhou is nicknamed as the city of goat. Zhao's creative team produced the show, which made it to the Guinness World Record for fireworks.
Panda Fireworks Group, the only listed Chinese fireworks company, was established in 1989.
"As the leading company in the fireworks industry, what Panda Group is trying to do is to help improve the standard of the entire industry and create a good environment for development. "
The Chinese fireworks market, estimated at 23 billion yuan each year, is considered to be bigger than all the combined overseas markets. But it is still viewed as a relatively small and backward industry.
Over the past 22 years, Panda Fireworks Group has merged two Swedish fireworks companies, a Danish company and a British company. Zhao says Panda will seek more mergers and acquisitions, merging at least 10 competitive fireworks companies in the next five years.
"Apart from fireworks products, I am going to build a business mode that none of our competitors will be able to copy," Zhao says. He is now trying to spread Panda fireworks to every city and town in a specific province by either purchasing shares of a local fireworks company or setting up franchises. But he did not disclose the name of the province. An online network for Panda fireworks retailing is also under construction.
Zhao has also begun to establish his own logistics company to help distribute dangerous goods like fireworks.
"Traditional logistics companies might not distribute fireworks because they do not have the requisite certification," he says.
Zhao is now bidding for the rights to a fireworks display at the London Olympic Games, which he describes as a mission that is "almost impossible".
"People might take it for granted that there was a fireworks display at the Beijing Olympic Games, but it is still tough to get a shot at the London Olympic Games."
But he remains optimistic.
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