China's Chartered Building Consultancy Taishou

6 February 2014

Michael Brown meets a Chartered Building Consultancy that typifies China's burgeoning SME sector.

“China pouring billions into London real estate”, ran the headline in the newspaper, China Daily, while I was in Chongqing. The British capital is a magnet now for buyers from mainland China and China Daily predicted this trend would run and run.

Of course, it’s not just London, or the UK. China has been investing in Africa and the Middle East for some time, but recent deals in the US and Europe show China’s profound new confidence in entering mature markets.

Behind these deals are usually the multi-billion-dollar-turnover, state-owned firms that have come to dominate the global league tables.

But below these behemoths that capture headlines in the international business press are many smaller companies that represent the human, entrepreneurial face of a China eager to participate in international trade.

In Chongqing I met with one of these, a smallish construction management consultancy called Taishou Construction and Engineering. Taishou is literally a mom-and-pop outfit: mother is the company president, father is a senior manager, and son, fluent in English and still in his twenties, the future. The son has just completed two masters degrees in the UK.

The new Lhasa council building in Tibet, supervised by Taishou

They have gained accreditation under the CIOB’s Chartered Building Consultancy (CBC) scheme and are very proud of being the first mother-father-son CBC anywhere in the world. Their ambition is to be much more than simply a family CBC, however.

What do they do? Well, terminology is tricky. In the UK we’d say Taishou carries out “construction management” for the client, but in China it’s translated as “supervision”.

For a fee they manage projects under contract directly to clients, carry out the engineering planning, and make sure the projects are completed to budget, time and cost. They manage modifications, coordinate the different parties, and much more.

Taishou has more than 100 employees, including two professor-level engineers, 11 senior engineers and 40 engineers.

A raft of other disciplines fill out their staff, including supervision engineers, cost engineers, structural and construction engineers, and architects. CIOB and RICS qualifications are plentiful among them.

Li Wenping, Taishou’s president

The company got its start in Tibet and it is now the largest private CM consultancy in the Autonomous Region. It has supervised some major projects, such as Lhasa’s new railway station, the Tibetan museum, and Lhasa’s new city council building.

Although small, it sees the big, state-owned companies and international CM consultancies as the primary competition. It believes it can undercut them and provide a better quality service. The strategy is to team up with a smaller international design practice to offer both design and CM as a package, and it’s on the look out for the right partner.

I’ve been watching China emerge from its isolation for more than 20 years, and while the big names in construction –the CSCECs, the BCEGs and Greenlands – provide the rainforest leaf canopy, underneath it the forest floor is teeming with life.

We can expect to hear much more from China’s second and third tier cities – and companies – in the years to come.

Michael Brown is deputy chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Building

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