From his high-rise office overlooking Hong Kong harbor, James E. (Jim) Thompson, founder and chairman of the Crown Worldwide Group, is conscious of the great responsibility that a global business brings. “When you start out in business you can afford to be a bit reckless [as there’s] nothing to lose, but when you’ve built up a company, your focus needs to change to protect what you have created.”
With an empire stretching across six continents in nearly 60 countries and some 5,000 employees, that’s quite a lot to protect!
American-born Jim Thompson left the USA in the mid-60s upon completion of his degree in aeronautical engineering. He had a real desire to see the world and after traveling with a friend around Europe and across Asia he settled in Japan to work for a moving company in which his father was involved in North America. After a short period of time, he had the opportunity to set up on his own, so on February 4, 1965, he cashed in his return plane ticket and with around US$ 1,000 he set up a moving company: Transport Services International. The company was located in a rented room in Yokohama, Japan, and business began with contracts for the U.S. military, which was moving personnel to and from the USA. The business grew steadily in the early years and within five years the business had a turnover of US$ 1 million.
Now known as Crown, the business set up a second operation in Hong Kong, which was starting to boom with investment after the end of the Cultural Revolution. The company then opened operations across Asia: Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. By the late 1970s, Crown moved its head office permanently to Hong Kong where it remains today. Through acquisitions and new start-ups, Crown Relocations developed operations throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Australasia, North and South America. Growth continued in Asia, moving into China in the early eighties then into other developing countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and India. Controlled growth has always been Jim’s philosophy and investing in the markets that Crown operates in has been a strategy for the past 50 years. Crown now owns many of the warehouse facilities used to store customers’ precious possessions and many other valuable items. These are purpose-built and, in many cases, the finest and safest found in a particular market.
Crown’s heritage business of household goods moving developed into providing full services to expatriate families in the early 1980s, from helping them find a home and schools for their children, to supporting immigration and getting settled into their new home. The famous Crown Club was developed to help newcomers meet others in their new community and support the expatriate experience. Over the last decade, Crown has developed further in the area of mobility. Its Crown World Mobility brand consults with multinational organizations in the area of talent mobility, supporting the development of leadership and policy relating to assignee transfers. “We never forget that for every move there is a person or family involved and caring for that customer in every way is key to our success. The company was built on providing a quality service, one move at a time, and this remains a core value today.”
Also in the 1980s, Crown diversified into managing archive storage and retrieval of corporation and government records through Crown Records Management. This business helps organizations with their information management requirements for the life cycle of any critical or important documents and digital information. Today Crown Records Management is the world’s third-largest provider of this service.
Another Crown brand that has been operating for the past 25 years is Crown Fine Art, a specialist service for packing, crating and transportation of fine art on behalf of museums, galleries and private collectors. As the fine art world shares and loans many treasures, Crown Fine Art has moved famous pieces, including the “Mona Lisa”, Magna Carta, Rembrandt’s “Nightwatch” and the “Girl with the Pearl Earring” by Dutch artist Vermeer.
Crown Logistics, famous for warehousing and moving high-value designer items, has operations throughout China and Hong Kong. In 2003, Crown Wine Cellars opened for business, storing fine wines in a former military bunker based in Hong Kong, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Apart from offering the finest conditions for wine storage, this business has become a prestigious Hong Kong social venue for events and wine tastings.
Jim Thompson was Chairman of AMCHAM in Hong Kong (2002-2003) and served as a member of the Hong Kong Forum and Vision 2047, discussing issues with visiting politicians, journalists and academics and is currently a member of a range of committees, such as HK-Japan Business Cooperation Committee, Investment Promotion Ambassador Scheme, and the HK ICAC Advisory Committee on Corruption. He also chairs various educational institutions, such as San Jose State University Business School and the Asian Youth Orchestra. He has been awarded the Gold Bauhinia Star, Hong Kong’s second-highest award, by the Hong Kong government and recently was awarded the SCMP Hong Kong Business Award. He is dedicated to making the world a better place through corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. These range from promoting sustainability within the communities in which Crown operates, to building schools and a library in Cambodia, raising substantial relief funds for global disasters, to planting trees and managing carbon emissions through the business.
February 2015 sees Crown Worldwide celebrate its 50th anniversary. So what does Jim Thompson consider to be the likely future for his company? “The future is very bright,” says Mr. Thompson, “because we’re stable and so financially secure and have a solid management team to continue to take the company forward. It’s a brand people trust, which has for 50 years upheld important values.”