Life is Like a Box of Gumballs

The past 18 years in China have been an incredible journey for Irishman Karl Long. He first arrived in Harbin in 2002 on a mission to advocate, promote and recruit students to the University of Dublin.

From the beginning, Karl has immersed himself in the local culture and language. With the help of some local friends, he picked up the language quickly, which helped him throughout his time in China.

“The best teachers are taxi drivers,” he admitted.

After a year in Harbin with hopes to work in a corporate environment, he moved to Beijing and worked for a Taiwanese freight forwarding company. Later, he decided to work for an Irish company called the Irish Dairy Board as an Asia business development manager. He spent 10 years living in Beijing.

“A few guys I knew opened an Irish Pub called Paddy O’Shea’s before the Olympic Games. I watched the business expand for a few months and decided that I wanted in. I took the managing partner position in 2008 and I did that for four years,” Karl said. “The idea was to open more franchises around the north of China. We opened three more in Beijing, and we looked at spots in Tianjin and Chengdu. It was good for a few years, but in the end, I didn’t own the bar—the bar owned me.”

Although the pub still exists, he sold his shares in 2013. “It was hit hard by the COVID-19 situation,” he added.

For his next venture, he joined a Texas company that owned and managed golf and private business clubs around the world. He was sent to Hefei in Anhui province.

“The [Irish] bar is like a hub for expats to come together… over here is the guy in the oil industry, over here are embassy guys, over here are journalists… I’d know everybody.”

After spending a few weeks in Dallas, he came back to open and run their Hefei operation at the Crowne Plaza. While in Hefei, he also opened a football school that he ran on weekends.

After two more years, he went into the manufacturing industry to work for a Dutch textile company, which led the way to his current position—General Manager at Zed Candy factory in Zhangmutou, Dongguan.

At Zed Candy, Karl oversees the whole manufacturing operation, including research and development, production and distribution to 50 countries. “I signed a five year contract with the company. The idea is to build up the company, expand operations, get more growth in markets, build up our global sales and get to a stage where the company becomes very attractive. China is key—once we get our brand on the shelves in China, we hope to get incremental growth that we can build on,” he commented on his current goals.

“In China, no two days are the same… You have to broaden your horizons and expectations. Yet, there are so many opportunities here.” To succeed in China, Karl’s advice is to understand the importance of its culture.