What I’ve Been Up To in Life

An entrepreneur from the age of 19, Gavin Crombie has had a wide and varied career.

From the first fish and chip shop in Wellington to a leather manufacturing and retail company, with factories in Pakistan and New Zealand, to finally ending up in China penniless and without a clue.

A few hard years of learning and struggle saw Crombie establish a business consultancy introducing western companies into the Chinese market, companies, such as German industrial gas company Messer Greisheim for whom he negotiated a $40 million USD JV near Chongqing.

Dealing with perhaps 120 different companies over a 6-year period taught Crombie many of the ways and means of doing business in China and how to get your feet out of the hole after you have fallen into it.

In 1999 he established a unique business model based in China to change a traditionally cottage based industry – architectural perspective drawings, architectural animation and model making. Growing to over 450 staff in China in 4 locations and with 31 offices worldwide until that small event called the Great Financial Crisis gave him a great big kick in the behind and reduced his demesne considerably and he now contents himself with around 100 staff and 10 sales offices globally.

Crombie has learned from some of the worst business experiences ranging from raising $400M for a film fund only to see it disappear down a rabbit hole when the time came for the investors to put in the money to spending a few million dollars to establish Green Leaf Film Studios and see it flap around like a bird in the mud after some silly nonsense from a colleague and then close down making Crombie and his remaining colleagues very sad and very wise.

In 2012 Crombie was appointed to the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise Department (NZTE) as a ‘Beachheads Advisor’ which allows him to try and beat the lessons learned in China into the heads of aspiring New Zealand company entrants into the China market. To date Crombie has worked with over 70 companies in this role, confirming his penchant for advisory masochism.

Author of the books: ‘The Way of the Dragon – A Guide to Doing Business in China’ – a book written to explain why you have to throw out the accepted rule book if you want to be successful in China, and used in more than 15 MBA program worldwide and the recently published ‘Secrets of Success for Architects in China – Insights from the Men and Women Who Built Modern China’.

Crombie earned his spurs actually in the trenches in China – hard won and enlightening experiences that have made him a hardy soul who enjoys more than his fair share of red wine and judging on his girth probably too many of the pies.

After 22 years in China Crombie has to admit that the fun is only just beginning and that he is just graduating from the China School of Hard Knocks with a minor degree and wonders how after 22 years his wife has remained as beautiful as the day he met her and why he is now an ugly sod.