Chris Rynning – a Norwegian businessman in China
This is Chris Rynning
Rynning was born in Trondheim, Norway’s third largest city, and now lives in Beijing
Family: Married with three children
Career: Chief Executive Officer and founder of Origo Partners PLC (origoplc.com). Lecturer at the School of Economics in Trondheim. Chairman of the Norwegian Chamber of Commerce in Beijing. Educated at the Norwegian Air Force Academy. Degree in Economics from Essec in France, and an MBA specializing in Finance from the University of Chicago.
Read more: Rynning has written a book called Little Streams, Big River (2013). He also runs the website chrisrynning.com, where he provides regular insight into current economic issues affecting both companies and society.
Few Scandinavians know more about doing business in China than Chris Rynning, who arrived in the world’s most populous country eighteen years ago. He runs a private equity firm that has interests in 18 different companies. According to the 2013 annual report, the company’s portfolio was worth more than $150 million. Rynning tells Scandinavian Traveler that there is no doubt China will continue to grow for many decades.
Rynning estimates China’s annual economic growth to be at 7%. By comparison, the US economy grew 2.2% last year. Across Europe growth varied from zero to 4%.
Fascinated by the region’s tiger economies, Rynning moved to the Far East in 1997.
“I wanted to see what was happening in Asia, so I traveled to Japan with the Norwegian industrial company Elkem. In those days Japan was America’s main competitor, but that was also the year the Asian financial crisis began. I had two choices: go back home or make the most of the falling prices. We reluctantly bought Chinese assets in 1999, which proved to be a successful move. The circle was completed in 2011, when a Chinese company purchased Elkem – a clear sign of China’s international expansion.”
Rynning was only supposed to be in China for a short time, but he says things ended up as they often do with those who travel abroad: they stay. His company invests in coal, oil, and green technology. Rynning describes the portfolio as “schizophrenic”.
Business China do’s and don’t’s
Be polite, but don’t bow. You are not in Japan
Offer your business card and accept the other person’s business card in both hands
Refuse gifts and compliments before then accepting them
Don’t correct someone in front of someone else, as that person will lose face
Don’t let anyone pay the check without first “fighting” over it
Don’t lay your chopsticks on your plate or place them upright in the bowl
Don’t give white or yellow flowers. They are only used for funerals.
Don’t drink alcohol without first proposing a toast.
Source: Chris Rynning
“I founded Origo Partners PLC with my own money and it was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2006. We pollute one place and clean up another, but ultimately it all comes down to the same thing: energy. We have invested in companies that operate solar energy and recycling, as well as in water desalination. Clean water is a limited resource in China and green technology is a market with a great deal of potential. There is so much pollution in China that they have to invest in it.”
Rynning is very hands-on, getting involved in the running of the companies he invests in.
“I find it interesting, but I have also discovered that being on the ground at the companies we invest in can be vital for their success.”
Today Rynning lives in Beijing with his wife and children.
“Life in China is hectic, but privileged,” he says. “After an early breakfast, my daughters head off to the international school in Beijing. At half past seven the chauffeur collects me and drives me to the office.”
The hectic lifestyle suits him, as Rynning is a person who likes to keep busy. When stuck in traffic he updates his website, chrisrynning.com. In 2013 he used his time in the car to write a book about China’s environmental problems. In addition to running his business, Rynning also comments on the Chinese economy across a range of media outlets.
While China continues to be plagued by accusations that it just copies other people’s ideas, Rynning says this is changing.
“There is a great deal of innovation within the technology and service sectors. Many Chinese companies are now at the forefront of international development.”
One good example is Xiaomi, which was founded in 2010 and is already the world’s third-largest manu-facturer of smartphones. The phones are similar to the iPhone 6 but cost just $150. Where the innovation lies is how they get their product to market: instead of big, expensive flagship stores, everything is handled online. They also don’t advertise.
‘We pollute one place and clean up another, but ultimately it all comes down to the same thing: energy’
Rynning could never have envisaged the career he ended up in while playing as a young boy in Risvollan in Trondheim.
“I used to play football and go skiing. That kept me out of trouble in Risvollan, which was a rough neighborhood in those days. I was a late bloomer and was completely unprepared for what was expected of me at upper secondary school. I was much better at leisure activities than at school. I owe my teachers an apology for that.”
After school he joined the military academy.
“After two hours at the military academy, I realized I had to pull myself up. From then on I worked hard at school.”
Although Rynning doesn’t think you should worry about your kids at school too much, he does think that that they should definitely be encouraged to head to China.
“I think all young people who are looking for an international career should come to China because that’s where it’s all happening.”
He is currently writing a book about exactly that while he sits in his car on the way to work each day.
Text: Inga Ragnhild Holst
Published: April 1, 2015
Last edited: October 4, 2017