About this programme by Peter Day
When I met Liam Casey for the first time last summer I found it difficult to understand exactly what he did. But straightaway I knew we had to make a programme about him.
We were both at the World Entrepreneur of the Year Award jamboree in Monte Carlo, run by Ernst and Young. Liam didn’t win the global award, maybe because the judges had the same problem as I did.
But in a way it was already strange enough for him to have been chosen as Ireland’s Entrepreneur of the Year.
Liam’s company PCH International is based a long way from Cork where he grew up; it’s in the incredible Chinese city of Shenzhen, just over the border from Hong Kong.
Incredible because 30 years ago it was just a fishing town of fewer than 80,000 people; it’s now got a population of 12- or 15- million people, half of them migrant workers in the thousands of factories sprung up in the Pearl River Delta as part of the great Chinese industrial revolution.
Four fifths of the world’s artificial Christmas trees are manufactured along the Pearl River. But thousands and thousands of other things, and components for other things, are made there as well, which is why Liam Casey has based his international facilitating business there.
PCH’s initials stand for Pacific Coast Highway, the wonderful US1 road in California for which he has a special affection. But again that does not say much about what the company is or does. PCH is an outsourcer … a group of workers with busy fingers packing goods for dispatch direct to the global consumer… often for direct delivery in two days time.
Liam says the business works 28-hour days. By that he means that time zone differences radically extend the working day. At the PCH facility in a warehouse in the duty free zone in Shenzhen at 8am one morning in December, the dispatch line was busy fielding orders being generated in places such as Florida some 9,000 miles away.
Two days later the orders would be delivered direct to the buyer.
But PCH is more than just a series of timely packing lines, and that’s when it starts getting really interesting.
At the centre of the company is a comprehensive database of some 900 Chinese companies with world class facilities in and around the Pearl River Delta.
In the past 30 years this has become the world’s new industrial powerhouse. Its plants and people are moving rapidly up the skills curve from plastic Christmas trees to ever more clever devices. Their global customers are teaching them how to get ever more ambitious in what they seek to do.
(In a forthcoming programme I’ll be visiting the Shenzhen car company BYD that has set out its ambitions absolutely uninhibitedly. It wants to be the biggest car company in China by 2015 ... and the biggest in the world in 2025. BYD, originally a rechargeable battery maker by origin, did not exist 13 years ago. Many of its cars are electric.)
Liam Casey does not speak Chinese, but he has the contacts to find you the factories that will make whatever you might want.
Take an idea to PCH, and his people will help you design the product, simplify it to make it manufacturable, find the Chinese firms to make it for you, and fulfil the orders and get them dispatched.
What role for the Western business in all this ? Well, Liam Casey will do the donkey work in the middle... and your Western company will work at either end of what he calls the “smiley curve”… providing the big idea at the beginning, and the astute marketing at the end.
This is getting very close to a very important new business model that I’m calling Capitalism without Capital.
Liam Casey understands this disruptive new world of business better than almost anyone else I have ever encountered. He’s in demand among the leaders of established big and vulnerable businesses all over the industrialised world to go and tell them (quite gently) what’s wrong with their traditional business models ... and what they have to do to fix them.
Sometimes top people hear him; sometimes they nod and go back to what they were already doing.
But whatever they think, Liam Casey is out there in China, riding an extraordinary wave of change. That’s what he does for a living. That’s why we’ve made a programme all about him.
About In Business
We try to make ear-grabbing programmes about the whole world of work, public and private, from vast corporations to modest volunteers.
In Business is all about change. New ways of work and new technologies are challenging most of the assumptions by which organisations have been run for the last 100 years. We try to report on ideas coming over the horizon, just before they start being talked about. We hope it is an exhilarating ride.