At the source

Updated: 2011-05-06 11:08

By Patrick Whiteley (China Daily European Weekly)

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When he started, the company only had 12 employees but over time expanded into a 900-staff enterprise with 10 different companies spread across three continents.

Bleis lived and worked in the US for three years and later returned to Denmark, but soon realized he needed to be on the move again.

"I was unaware that traveling had really got into my blood and only when I found a job in mobile phone business for a Korean/Danish company I started to feel alive again," he says. "That brought worldwide travel back and I got what I wanted in terms of traveling."

By the late 1990s he turned his attention to new energy and approached Vestas, the world's biggest supplier of wind turbines, with the idea of starting up business in China.

At the source

"When I was young, I had a dream that I would live in both the US and China to compare cultures," he says.

"I was also feeling slightly unhappy about spending nine years in the timber industry and selling off the rainforest so I looked to renewable energy companies in order to find something to do and found wind power.

"I contacted Vestas wind power and suggested that they should start selling in China. They thought about that for a while and then in 1998 hired me with the task of convincing the board to start sales in China.

"I got one month to make a business plan and based on some highly unrealistic information we set out to build Vestas in China."

Bleis spent the next four years developing Vestas' business in China that has seen its turbines spread across 13 provinces producing 3,000 mW of energy.

"I had that job over four years and I'm happy to see what Vestas has achieved in China today. I like to think I made a good contribution to this," he says.

Vestas' company policy at the time only allowed for employees to work at an overseas location for three years, and Bleis managed to get a one-year extension, but by 2003, when the company asked him to relocate to South America, the Danish man's mind was made up.

He had met the love of his life, a woman who later would become his wife, "so leaving China was not in the book anymore".

In 2003, Bleis started an industrial sourcing company, which caters mainly to European customers. Products include aluminum, glass, mirrors, picture frames, plastic, rubber and steel products. One of Bleis' customers includes a leading Danish chain store, which buys 3 million picture frames every year.

Bleis says the scale of business operations in China has always been massive, which he soon realized when he arrived.

"In 1998, on the first day I arrived in China, one of the shoe factories had just laid off 10,000 people," he says.

"I was representing the world's biggest wind turbine company, and I was asked by one Chinese businessman how many people worked for the company.

"At that time there were 5,000 people (there are a lot more today) and he shrugged his shoulders and said, 'that's not very big'.

"The understanding of what is big in China is very different, so that's part of the reason for why China is not really ready for small customers."

Bleis says one European customer, who makes wardrobes, requested 5,000 sets of door wheels, but the Chinese supplier has a minimum order policy of 15,000. This can be hard to explain to a medium-sized company in Estonia.

He says although China's massive size has its advantages it can also be a liability, which some European companies have seized upon.

"European companies are coming back to supply small orders, and are offering better service," he says.

"The Chinese products might be 20 percent cheaper, but when the time of delivery takes up to three months and payment is demanded up front, Chinese production is not as competitive as before when the price difference was up to 40-50 percent.

"The quality of the products are improving, that's for sure, but the service is limping behind, and that's where Chinese companies need to improve."

However, Bleis says when the Chinese want to get things done, the speed of delivery never ceases to amaze.

"On one Saturday, I watched a complete park get built on a corner of the fourth ring road - complete with grass, trees, flowers and decorations - amazing," he says.

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