Communism And Female Wealth

By Guest Contributor

Maureen Fan

A few years ago – Shi Xiaoyan sold 17 of her 20 cars. That left her with just the Porsche – a Boxster and the 911 Turbo – in the downstairs garage.

Shi, who also goes by Celia, is the founder and chief executive of Illinois, the Beijing-based home furniture chain and is high on a list of the richest women in China, with a reported total wealth, along with her husband, Ye Mingqin, of close to $200 million.

That kind of conspicuous consumption might not be quite so conspicuous in Beverly Hills. But this is China, where, until fairly recently, being rich was not only rare but virtually criminal. After making money was sanctioned by the government, many of the people decided to xia hai, or jump into the commercial sea and start their own businesses.

Shi Xiaoyan was one of these people!

In just ten years, Shi Xiaoyan made a huge leap forward in her life. From a nurse in Beijing, to student studying abroad, to a billionaire also establishing China’s first auto theme park located near Beijing’s Capital International Airport.  With an investment of over 50 million yuan, it is the only one of its kind in northern China. Here, people can purchase automobiles, as well as participate in auto racing and other cultural activities. She also has plans to build shopping malls, hotels and golf courses in the surrounding area.

After marriage and not satisfied with being a wife at home, Shi was inspired through an experience abroad when she saw and realized that a person’s values could be embodied in what he/she eats, wears and uses and “what I became interested in – was dealing with people” and it changed her attitude towards life.

She decided to do an interior design major at the University of Chicago. At the same time, Shi kept an eye both on the international fashion trends and China’s development. Within one year from 1993 to 1994, she learned everything about high-quality materials, brands and design concepts and decided on the best time to come back and start her new career as a buyer.

Her education in America provided a solid foundation. “Almost all my lessons in the U.S. were taught in museums, instead of the classrooms with boring theories,” Shi said.

“For example, I learned most of the knowledge about the wooden veneer from a veneer processing manufacturer. So I know about wooden skin products and ways they combine together.” Even today, she spends a lot of time visiting museums and art exhibitions to find inspiration.

But Shi lost three million US dollars in her first deal. After a few initial setbacks, together with her husband, she established a small furniture factory and imitated the design and style of foreign brands as well as importing actual foreign products. Yet this strategy of copying western designs didn’t last long and she began creating her own furniture design shop.

Upon researching the international furniture market, she developed Illinois Unique Style— new classic, postmodernism – inviting top designers from the world to design in her studio. This soon became a real hit, which not only attracted Chinese customers, but also buyers from abroad.

Whenever difficulties are encountered, Shi lives by her motto. “Style keeps changing and I never stop working.”

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