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Ling of LINGsCARS (BBC Dragons’ Den)

For those who are fans of BBC’s Dragons’ Den, you may have seen a Chinese woman called Ling Valentine and her business of selling cars through her web site. The dragons were impressed and offered to invest in her, but she turned it down because they wanted too much equity. Ling was on TV again last night as Duncan Bannatyne visited her offices in Gateshead, North East of England for a catch up. 

She runs a successful online business selling contract hire cars. Ling is from Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province. She is married to Jon an Englishman, they fell in love whist studying together in Finland, of all places.

Ling with Fiona Bruce, the presenter of Crime Watch.

Business for Ling has been booming. She turned over £35million worth of cars in 2010, so Ling didn’t really need the Dragons’ money after all.

Duncan Bannatyne declined the offer of a lift from Ling, but did visit her ‘World Headquarters’ in Gateshead, to see at first hand how Ling manages to churn out so many new cars each month.

He was greeted by a pile of cash; £50,000 to be exact, the same amount he and Richard Farleigh had offered Ling in the first place.

Ling showed Duncan Bannatyne around her office and allowed him a brief moment to glaze over the LINGsCARS’ accounts. That’s when the Dragon began to spit flames. The summary of accounts that Ling had provided was not good enough, Duncan wanted to know EXACTLY what he’d missed out on, and demanded to speak to Ling’s accountant. Ling stood her ground, and a stalemate was reached, with Duncan settling for the Companies House accounts for LINGsCARS, finally realising the goldmine Ling had originally denied him.

Ling showed Bannatyne that his £25,000 investment would now have been worth £100,000 (plus his original £25k back). Bannatyne disputed these figures, though it’s unsure what the BBC will show. Since the filming, Ling has completed her April 2011 accounts and can now prove that Bannatyne was utterly wrong to contradict her figures. Profit for LINGsCARS in the year 2010 to 2011 is in excess of £100,000!

What do you think are the differences between doing business in China and the UK?

I can build my business without guanxi or any other favours or bribes. Plus, the business environment in the UK is very stable. In China, the law and the infrastructure is still immature (compared to the UK). Simple things can be a nightmare to organise in China. Like dealing with banks and moving money around, you only have to compare local Chinese branches of the Bank of China or China Construction Bank with my local Barclays and HSBC – I know which ones I would rather visit! Sure there is massive growth in China and there are riches to be made, but stick your head above the line and you become a target for every petty jealousy going. Freedom is a big benefit in the UK.

What advice can you give to Chinese students who want to work in the UK?

I would say go for it! Too many Chinese students accept second-best jobs and lack self-confidence. For example, I have just interviewed a 24-year old Chinese lady who has an MSc and is working in a Chinese Supermarket, being paid half in cash! That’s no good at all. Chinese people tend to accept this semi-illegal culture and seem to think they have to compete quietly and without making waves. That’s nonsense. I would say, shout about your abilities, make a real fuss, go and bang some doors down and aim high. You can use your Chinese-ness as a benefit. UK employers recognise diligence and hard work, but they want enthusiasm and action, too!

Ling has won many awards such as this one, ‘The North West Business Woman of the Year’

What do you miss about China ?

I miss my family and the food. Sichuan food is one of the four great cuisines of China and very little in the UK comes close. Of course it is natural to miss my family, but even if they could join me, my mum and dad (now 75) would not enjoy life here as they have their friends and social circle in China. 

What do you like about living and working in the UK?

I love the environment, compared to Chengdu every day is fresh and clean, even when it’s raining here. In China, everything gets dirty and dusty, there is always a layer of grime. I love the NHS. This is a wonderful institution and compared to the Chinese, British people have a fantastic health care system. I like the way that in business, you can be rewarded based on yourself, not on who you know. And as well as the BBC, British police, legal system, government system, and everything else that makes up the UK, I really love the British sense of humour. In China everything is serious. In the UK, everything is a joke, even the most terrible things are made funny. Remember, I learned a lot of my English by watching Dad’s Army.

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