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Interview: Marco Conti on 14 years of business in China

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Marco Conti has been living and doing business in Kunming for nearly fifteen years. He is a busy man. The Italian expat owns two companies in China and one in Hong Kong. His first endeavor, ChinaMultiservice (云南意能咨询有限公司), was set up in 2005 and offers consulting services to European companies wanting to do business in China.

Conti's second venture is called Yismes (云南意中会会展服务有限公司) and focuses on the commercial fair industry and bringing foreign exhibitors to expos across Asia. The third feather in Conti's cap is CBA Consulting, which specializes in bringing Italian technology to China, especially in the medical and environmental sectors. GoKunming recently sat down with Conti to discuss how he ended up in China and what it takes to sustain multiple businesses in Yunnan.

GoKunming: Could you tell us what first drew you to Yunnan and what made you stay?

Marco Conti: How I ended up here is a series of anecdotes. In August 2003, I was leaving Berlin and heading to Spain to improve one of the two languages I had studied at Humboldt University. I had already paid a deposit for an apartment in Barcelona and on one of my last days in Berlin, I met an Italian who was living in Kunming. He described to me a "paradise on earth" that I couldn't afford to miss.

After I got there, he offered me a bed in his house and introduced to me friends, local habits and the food here. I will thank him forever. I stayed because when I accept a challenge, I can't give up. Over time, I was lucky enough to meet the right people in the right positions. They encouraged me to create connections between Yunnan and Italy and helped me when I first started ChinaMultiservice in 2005.

GK: From then until now, have you developed a business philosophy that guides you?

Conti: I work to earn money and sustain my family. But, in addition to that, I also try to stay focused on the fact that human relationships and personal growth are more important than anything else.

GK: Why do you run the types of companies you do?

Conti: Working in the consulting business, I deal with many projects in many different sectors. I meet all sorts of people. Because of that, I never get bored and I'm able to travel a lot. I would also add that if I am contributing even slightly to promote Italian products and technology in China, I'd be relieved from the needling thought that I work too much when I could be enjoying life more.

GK: What has been the biggest challenge in opening a Yunnan-based business?

Conti: It has always been to convince prospective Italian companies to invest here in southwestern China. When I started to promote Yunnan over thirteen years ago, it was difficult even for them to understand how to spell Kunming, let alone where it was located and what opportunities it might offer.

GK: What do you consider the most important success of your career?

Conti: To have worked with incredible colleagues throughout the years. The fact that some of those people are now my best friends — outside of business — in China is definitely my biggest success.

GK: Where do you see yourself and your business in ten years?

Conti: First of all, I hope to let my three companies grow and to create more jobs as time goes on. But in ten years, I'd actually like to be spending more time with my family, and also have more time for myself — maybe some moments to cultivate my personal interests. I also hope to be able to travel again without being "kidnapped" by a driver when I arrive in a new Chinese city and being "released" at the airport just a few days later, only to catch another flight! As for business, I really hope that we can bring more green technology to China, especially in terms of water treatment and waste management.

GK: How do you see Kunming evolving over the next several years?

Conti: I see it becoming more developed and similar to other Chinese big cities — better in terms of opportunities and its overall international presence. But in my humble opinion, the Kunming of the future won't hold a candle to the "old" Kunming I had the luck to live in when I first arrived here in 2003.

GK: How have you found joining and working within the Yunnan Foreign Business Club [YFBC]?

Conti: I joined because I think that the foreign entrepreneurs in Kunming should be more in contact to exchange ideas, opportunities or just to get to know each other better. Besides that, I hope the Yunnan government will take advantage of suggestions and proposals put forward by the YFBC . When we had the first formative talks about the YFBC, I said that to be able to be "listened to" by the right people, you need to have the right contacts. In China, having a larger number of voices is always the key point.

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Thank you GKM for sharing with us the successful expatriates in Spring City. Showing us with examples it's possible to achieve your goals here, and thrive.

Wonderful news and information - I'll be looking for Marco at the next YFB meeting.

We've removed a sentence erroneously stating one of Conti's companies is headquartered in Milan. Sorry for the mistake.

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