Zhao Xinzhu, a businesswoman from Shenzhen, a city in south China's Guangdong province, has been recognized as both an innovative entrepreneur and an advanced role model as part of the celebrations to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. "Only by contributing more to the city can I repay this great city and realize my life value in this great era!" she says.
Starting her business
Zhao was full of enthusiasm in 1989. Like many young people then, she left her hometown in northeast China and went to Shenzhen - the trailblazer of China's reform and opening up - empty-handed. "Think about it. At that time, I was really audacious!" Zhao says.
Since it became China's first special economic zone 40 years ago, Shenzhen has developed into a modern metropolis, with a population of more than 13 million, and it has been widely dubbed a "miracle."
The city was the ideal place for Zhao to realize her bold dreams. She started out making garments, and she succeeded in carving out her career by continuously learning relevant skills.
In 2001, with the promulgation of new policies, China's real estate market began to thrive. "There was a need for people that had not been fully met — a comfortable and beautiful overall kitchen. If this could be achieved, a new industry would emerge in China," she says.
Zhao in 2001 led a team into the business of designing and producing kitchen cabinets. She renamed her brand "Zhongyi (means like in Chinese)," which expressed her inspiration to put consumers first, and her commitment to make products that would be loved by people.
She had a small, 47-square-meter office and a 500-square-meter factory when she founded Zhongyi Group. To her relief, the change in Chinese people's perception of kitchens coincided with the growth of the industry, and with her own expectations.
Over the next 20 years, the enterprise grew into a modern, smart-home provider that integrated research and development with production and sales. Headquartered in Shenzhen's Qianhai area, it has built good business relations with real estate developers, and with domestic and foreign suppliers.
Zhao saw the opportunities presented by China's Belt and Road Initiative, and she established a smart-home exhibition center in Nanning, capital of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. She also opened branches in Hong Kong, the municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, and in the provinces of Guangdong and Hubei.
Her company developed an independent smart-home system, which has been labeled as "Intelligently Manufactured in China" rather than simply "Made in China."
When she recalls her entrepreneurial journey, Zhao never regrets her perseverance. "In an unfamiliar sector, it takes great courage and firmness to bear failure. I always tell myself to go all out, using my determination," says Zhao.
The corporate philosophy of Zhongyi is "survive by quality, develop by reputation." Says Zhao: "It is the quality of products that I am proud of, that enables me go further and further on the road of innovation."
When the global financial crisis broke out in 2008, many companies were eager to survive, but they lost their way. Zhao insisted on ensuring product quality, and on accelerating the company's economic upgrading by cooperation with industrial parks.
She focused on industrial transformation, technological innovation and functional development, and she analyzed existing problems and found the best solutions, which made it easier for the company to pull through the crisis and seize new opportunities.
Zhao believes "continuous innovation" is the key to a flourishing enterprise. "To date, we have more than 100 independent patents. In the future, we will keep on striving for tech innovation."
In the era of intelligent interconnection, the traditional home furnishing sector is facing huge challenges. In 2015, Zhongyi began working with universities and global first-class, intelligent-technology companies to develop the smart-home system through cloud computing, the mobile Internet, wireless communications and other technologies. The system can help users access a customized smart, convenient and comfortable life.
In the group's intelligent industrial parks, items are produced by automation, which can reduce human errors.
Zhongyi has achieved a good brand image and reputation despite the fierce market competition. It has been honored as "Guangdong Famous Trademark" and "Shenzhen Famous Brand."
Zhao is confident the company will have continued success. "Innovation is the foundation of an enterprise, and patriotism is the cornerstone of national brands. In this context, we are faithful that Zhongyi will become a prestigious national brand," says Zhao.
Giving back to society
"It's important to bring happiness to more people, even during the process of pursuing our own interests," says Zhao. The well-known entrepreneur has played multiple social roles, and she has always borne her social responsibilities on her shoulders.
Women play an important role in social development, Zhao says. Children are the hope of a nation, she adds. "I am a woman," says Zhao. "So, I am willing to pay attention to charity for women and children, as long as I am needed. We still have a long way to go to help more disadvantaged and impoverished women and children overcome their difficulties."
As the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic began to spread during this year's Spring Festival, the whole country worked together to fight the virus. Zhao led corporate executives in establishing an epidemic-prevention and -control working group.
On January 29, her company donated money to the Red Cross Society of Guangdong Province to assist with epidemic-prevention and -control efforts. It also donated money to Guangdong Women's Federation, to help provide support to families of the Guangdong medical team members who had rushed to assist Hubei, the worst-hit province.
Zhongyi also donated masks to Jixi, a city in northeast China's Heilongjiang province. The company also donated disinfectant to Shenzhen Women and Children's Fund at the time when anti-epidemic materials were scarce in China. Also, Zhao promoted the orderly resumption of work and production.
Zhao believes entrepreneurs should perform good deeds. "We are cultivated by the Party (Communist Party of China) and the State, and we have to give back to society.
"In addition, I will also feel very warm while warming others. Last year, the children who benefited from the Liangshan Care Project, of the China Red Ribbon Fund, came to Shenzhen. I didn't expect that many of them would still remember me. They wrote down their words and sent cards to me, which made me especially touched," Zhao recalls.
As an executive committee member of the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF), and as executive president of the Women's Chamber of Commerce of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, Zhao encourages women entrepreneurs to give full play to their unique charm and advantages, and to care for employees to increase the vitality and cohesion of their enterprises.
It is also necessary, Zhao adds, to make full use of women's advantages in families, to create good family traditions, and to cultivate healthy and upright children.
"As a group member of the ACWF, our chamber must be a bridge that links the Party and government with all women, and we must love our jobs and work hard to build a better world in the new era," says Zhao.