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Global Trader : David Tsai Hopes to Build a Business Network Based on the Exchange of Information and Development of Management Skills. That's Why He Founded the Asian Pacific Mart.

May 29, 1994|DAVID TSAI | David Ts a i, 46, is the founder of the Asian Pacific Mart at 11th and Flower streets, one block from the Los Angeles Convention Center. The mart offers international traders 64,000 square feet of exhibit space, with plans in the works to add 170,000 square feet of showrooms and a 216-room business hotel. The mart offers exhibit booths to sellers of goods and services from all parts of the Pacific Rim. Born in Taiwan, Tsai has worked in Southern California for 23 years and lives in Santa Monica. He and his wife, Shelly, have a 14-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. He was interviewed by Karen E. Klein.

We try to be a bridge that can connect Asia and the United States and Latin America. That's one of the very basic goals of our mart.

People need to know that there are differences and also similarities between different countries and different areas.

In our showrooms, you could find products from Taiwan and from China and selected items produced locally. It's sort of a mix at this moment.

We also have lots of other activities, like cultural programs and trade fairs. Various cities hold fairs here and they bring their products and other kinds of goods over to display them. The Black Businessmen's Assn. will be holding a fair here soon targeted at the Asian populations. Indonesia is going to have a trade fair here, showcasing the products they produce and the business opportunities they have in that country.

We try to create grass-roots programs, like arts exhibitions, cultural performances and seminars. We know that trade activities lead to the exchange of money and goods, but we feel we should get more involved in the exchange of politics and culture in order to know the whole spectrum.

Another thing we do is arrange contacts between business people from various countries who want to expand into the international arena.

For instance, we set up some meetings recently for the president of the Nestle Corp. because that firm wants to expand into Vietnam.

The Vietnamese people are familiar with Nestle products from before and during the Vietnam War. In the last two years, their products have been available on the black market in Vietnam and they have become very popular, especially to give as gifts when people visit other homes.

So it's natural for Nestle to expand there because there is already a market for their products. When the president of the company planned a trip to Vietnam, he asked us to give him some leads with businessmen in the country and we gave him some people he could talk to.

Connections are very important in business, especially in Asia. That's why our company can be so successful in that part of the world. It's a cultural thing that has been influenced a lot by the Japanese. That is their business pattern and model--to develop a large network of business contacts and connections whenever they go into a new arena.

I was born in Taiwan and came to study at UCLA in 1973 to finish my master's degree in urban design. I had studied architectural design in Taiwan.

My uncle was in the import/export business in Taiwan, trading mostly between Taiwan and Japan. My father worked as an engineer for the government, building hydroelectric power plants.

I was with my uncle all the time and I got my business knowledge from him. Our family originally came from China's Fujian province in the southern part of China.

In 1976, I opened a design and construction company here called VIT Construction Co. that I still own. It does commercial and residential real estate development. In 1978, I started doing some importing and exporting through a company I started called Lumax International.

Even though I had been here several years, I still had lots of friends throughout the Asian countries, particularly because I had been involved in my uncle's import/export business.

So I worked on that and on real estate development during the 1980s. I was involved in urban development downtown. I remember when I first came here in the early 1970s, nobody dared come to downtown. That was true even in the late '70s.

But I had a dream that was based on what I saw going on in Hong Kong and Taiwan and Japan. The younger generations were so successful there. Everybody was exchanging information and promoting management skills. I wanted to see the same thing happening here in the United States.

I wanted to pull people together, especially with trade with China opening up and Asian markets becoming so huge now. That's why we opened the mart last fall.

I bought the property at 11th and Flower when it was all abandoned warehouses five years ago, because I foresaw there would be redevelopment there.

I rehabilitated a three-story historical warehouse for the first stage of the mart. We have our showroom, a library and a conference room now. Crime is not heavy here because we are isolated from the rest of downtown, in a way.

Originally, when we opened the mart we were planning to work mostly with Asian entrepreneurs. But very surprisingly, after we opened the mart we found that many Latin American countries fell in love with us.

Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico-- they want to do business with Asian countries too, but they have no way to get started. If Latin American business people want to go to China, the Chinese Embassy usually recommends that they come and see us first.

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