Greater China: An American Dream

The Story of Greater China’s Founder and his Pursuit of Success Through Knowledge, Perseverance, and a Little Bit of Luck


“Ideas enlarge the mind and never allow it to go back to its original dimensions”

- Chinese Proverb


Greater China, like many companies, is the result of one man’s ambition to achieve the American Dream.

This is his story.

Ben Zhang moved from China to the United States in 1989 at the young age of 23. Although Ben knew barely any English at the time, he didn’t let that stop him.

He had already decided he didn’t want to follow the traditional path that so many Chinese immigrants had taken of opening a laundry business or Chinese restaurant.

He realized his answer was education.

“Knowledge is power,” said Ben. “I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I understood that education would help me to achieve my American dream sooner. Ever since then I have never given up education.”

Even though Ben already had obtained a college education in Chemistry from China, he knew his first step was to become fluent in English. He was accepted to English as a Second Language (ESL) program at Fresno State, and spent 13 months there. Soon after, he moved to Washington State to attend South Puget Sound Community College and received his AA degree in accounting. Moscow, Idaho was his next stop, where he spent his third year of school.

Ben had moved to the US with barely any money, so his financial situation was becoming strained. His desire for education conflicted with his lack of financial resources.

For the time being, money won, and Ben worked several jobs to make some money. Eventually, along with the help of student loans and scholarships, he had enough to go to University of Washington. Before long, he was walking to the podium to accept his undergraduate degree.

During his last quarter at UW, he wrote a business plan about importing and exporting products between the US and China, and acted as the catalyst to Ben’s dream of starting his own business. Yet being a recent college grad with no money, he knew he didn’t have the capital to start his own business quite yet.

Ben started job hunting, and was offered several jobs. None, however, were quite up to par. The way he saw it, he had worked to hard to settle for a job he wasn’t passionate about, and he knew he could do better.

After turning down several offers, Ben decided to go ahead and take a leap of faith and start his own company.

Ben said that when he came to this conclusion he thought, “Screw it, I’m going to start my own business. I knew I didn’t have very much money but I thought, ‘so what? A lot of companies start from scratch. If they can do it, maybe I can get lucky and do it too.’”

Ben spent every dollar he had to his name, a mere $770 and rented a 10x10 booth at the Seattle Gift Show to sell a few tchotchke’s. The days passed by, but Ben didn’t get any buyers. Although a few people asked pricing for quantities of 20 or 40, all Ben could do was smile, take down their requests, and tell them, “I’ll get back to you.” Yet he knew he wouldn’t be getting back to them, because he didn’t have any inventory.

It was the fourth and last day, and Ben had no choice but to pack up his booth. Money spent, and no plan, Ben was devastated.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, four people came up to his booth and asked to see his products. All he had was one box, so he told them, “Yes, please look at anything you’d like.” They instantly became very interested in the products, and within less than five minutes they had chosen ten items.

Items in hand, they said, “how much do these cost?” and Ben asked the next natural question, “well what quantities are you looking for?” Their answer just about gave Ben a heart attack.

“We want one hundred thousand, one quarter million, and a half million,” they said. Ben was shocked!

They told him that they worked for an advertising agency and one of their clients was a national bank. They needed the bank’s logo to be printed on each of the items. When a customer visited the bank, they could take home these “gifts”.

They called this business “ASI.” Ben, awe struck, asked what ASI stood for, and they said, “It stands for Advertising Specialty Institute.”

Ben had never heard of this industry, but as he was talking to these potential customers, he immediately thought back on his business plan and the proverbial light bulb went off--Promotional products seemed to be the perfect fit!

Two weeks later, the group placed seven purchase orders, resulting in over half a million dollars worth of revenue. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ben officially started Greater China in 1995, the same year he graduated from the UW. Since that time, Ben has earned himself an executive MBA through Cornell and graduated from the Harvard Executive MBA program called Owner President Management – all while operating his company full time.

Today, Greater China stands as one of the top 50 suppliers in the Advertising Specialty Industry, but Ben sees an even brighter future for the company.

“Our destiny is to be a top 10 supplier,” he said. “We want to continue to grow as a business, but we still have a long way ahead of us.”

Ben treats his business like he treats his education. He’s always looking for new things to learn, and opportunities to grow.

Thanks to Ben’s infallible work ethic, can-do attitude, and thirst for knowledge, Greater China has become a sustainable company whose humble beginnings keep it rooted in the authenticity and tenacity it was built upon.