HANGZHOU, June 6 (Xinhua) -- As a forerunner who started his business in the early days of China's market opening up, Xu Guanju spent 37 years expanding his company, Transfar, from a detergent-making workshop into a conglomerate spanning multiple sectors.
Now the 62-year-old entrepreneur is utilizing innovation as a strategic tool to guide the company through economic challenges both domestically and internationally, ensuring a more robust business life cycle.
"As the global economic outlook is bleak, we have gravitated to the upper end of industrial chains to seek greater strength," said Xu, chairman of Transfar Group.
Based in east China's Zhejiang Province, home to various vibrant private companies, Transfar raked in 145 billion yuan (about 20.4 billion U.S. dollars) in operating revenue in 2022. Its business covers a broad sphere from chemicals, logistics and agriculture to life science.
One of the company's latest innovations involves a product named Neodymium Butadiene Rubber (NdBR), an ingredient used to manufacture tires for new energy vehicles. Transfar's capabilities in producing this synthetic material have helped it become a supplier for the world's 10 major tire brands.
"Continuing a momentum of fast growth last year, NdBR's sales since the start of this year increased by over 70 percent," Xu said, calling the technology "crucial" for the company.
With more than half of its profits coming from chemicals, the company has to tackle the challenge of oversupply and uncertainties in demand resulting from economic slowdown on a broader scale.
Nationwide, traditional manufacturers that account for approximately 80 percent of China's value-added industrial output are collectively confronted with the imperative of upgrading to varying degrees.
For Transfar, investing in innovation is not going for quick gains, Xu said. "When we invest, we are expecting to see how they will fare in three to five years."
Xu admitted that there was a time he felt like being stuck on the road when leading the company to brave the headwinds.
"But getting stuck isn't scary as plenty of opportunities arise in the process of addressing uncertainties," he said, noting that at this time, NdBR proved to be a valuable buffer.
In retrospect, Xu feels a company's innovations often start with its growing pains. For instance, after realizing that logistics was a constraint for business expansion, he set up Transfar Logistics in 2003 to quicken the transport of goods, which helped manufacturing firms lower costs and increase efficiency. Transfar Group now boasts more than 70 logistics centers nationwide.
To tap new growth points, Transfar turned to bioscience and built a science and technology incubator park that has attracted more than 100 companies from the field of life science and technology.
However, several of the company's recent exploratory endeavors are still awaiting tangible returns.
Xu acknowledged that entrepreneurs often feel anxious as market competition has been quite brutal and what represents the future for a company is difficult to predict.
"A sound business environment and atmosphere matters. When ecology is good, all kinds of plants will grow and flourish," he said.
Looking forward, Transfar plans to strengthen chemical production, its "bread-and-butter business," break new ground and sow seeds for future growth by tapping new energy and new materials sectors, building a digital and intelligent freight network and providing friendly platforms for sci-tech teams to start their businesses.
"When it comes to innovation, we hope to be 10 years ahead of the market in terms of vision and five years ahead in terms of action," Xu said.