Zeng Xiaodong founded Gold Kirin in partnership with her husband after she graduated from art school 17 years ago. Today, the company has more than 300 employees, several lcoations, and customers all over the world.
Gold Kirin was one of the first digital media companies in China. The company, headquartered in Chengdu, China’s “Silicon Valley,” provides a range of visual services, from architectural modeling to 3D feature film animation.
Zeng Xiaodong, whose business card says “Maggy Zeng,” founded Gold Kirin in partnership with her husband seventeen years ago. She had just graduated from art school, where she studied painting, and he was an architect. They began the business as an art studio. However, the building boom in China at that time provided many opportunities to use the digital visualization skills they had learned in school, so their focus was on applied arts from the first.
Neither of them had business training. Nevertheless, the firm grew quickly. Today, it has three domestic offices, in Chengdu, Beijing, and Chongqing, as well as an overseas office in Singapore. Clients are not only from China and Asia, but also from the Middle East, Europe, and America. Their personnel, now numbering more than 300, include architecture professionals, digital media specialists, creative designers, as well as the usual range of marketing, finance, and other support services.
Maggy pours tea at a beautiful wooden table that belies the streamlined modern office where it sits.
Though the office is airy, modern, and full of the latest digital equipment, I had a sense of having entered a company that mixed the best of tradition with the newest thinking right from the first. Our visit to Gold Kirin opened at a beautiful wooden table, where Maggy solemnly and graciously made tea and poured it for us. From there, we proceeded on a tour of the building, seeing rows of young people in swivel chairs, peering into their screens, focused but not frantic.
Our tour ended in a cavernous room with a huge screen. We breathed the scent of an arrangement of lilies and continued drinking tea, while Gold Kirin’s creative director explained the structure of the business. He opened with a comment about the need to pursue spiritual wealth at the same time one works for material wealth. It seemed fitting: the kirin is a mythical beast in both Chinese and Japanese culture. A combination of beasts with antlers and a horse tail, its appearance is an omen for both serenity and prosperity.
The office at Gold Kirin is cool and modern.
Later, at lunch, our group had an interesting conversation about what it means to pursue both material and spiritual wealth–and why such philosophies are more common among entrepreneurs than corporations. In the meantime, though, we were given a slideshow, interrupted by conversations translated from Chinese into English and back again into Chinese. Gold Kirin’s growth in the early years came organically from the high demand for architectural services fueled by China’s building boom. However, in the past five to seven years, Gold Kirin has pushed strongly into new digital forms, often occupying the innovation horizon in a way that pushed their clients’ imaginations, as well.
For instance, the team has developed abilities to help with product and performance design in ways that show objects and settings as yet unbuilt, and then to model how the objects will not only look and move, but interact with other forces in the same environment. This is important for industrial design and environmental impact documentation. However, this ability to visualize also helps in planning and direction of theatre offerings–like Cirque du Soleil or rock concerts or fashion shows–such that expensive sets and effects can be tested before they are even produced. Not only does this ability to visualize save time and money, clients often find that they discover new ways of doing their work, making their products, and even identifying markets.
Essentially, then, what Gold Kirin is selling is the ability to envision something that has not yet been made, but then further to use that “envisioning” process to create new possibilities. Maggy laughed and said (through interpretation) that she had learned a lot from Steve Job’s insistence on giving consumers what they don’t know yet they need. Her team is often in that situation with clients because the process of visualization itself often leads to unexpected creativity.
Interestingly, one of Gold Kirin’s biggest challenges today is finding enough talented young people with the appropriate digital skills to staff their growing business. And, indeed, this lack of creative personnel is a problem for the Chinese digital imagery industry generally. So, Gold Kirin, enabled by a 10 million RMB grant from the Chinese government, has opened a training program onsite that teaches young trainees in the arts of the digital.
Here again we saw the elegant juxatposition of the traditional with the new. In the “school” area hung a big sheet with Chinese writing all over it. We were told that each student must write the same phrase, a traditional saying about respecting your teachers and being grateful for your learning, on this surface. (I wonder whether I should ask my MBAs to do this?)
Many of the students are hired directly into Gold Kirin. Those who are not hired internally are placed with other firms. There is so much demand and the training so good, that 100% of the students can get jobs.
It seemed to me that this company represented entrepreneurship at its best. Not only did it offer the things that are conventionally associated with entrepreneurship, like growth, employment, and technology, it also offered creativity, learning, and beauty. Most intriguing, though, was the way that this company’s work, whether their collaborative activities with their clients or their training program for China’s next generation of creative talent, was using digital imagery to build a capacity for vision.