With 7,000 employees in 40 countries, Li & Fung Ltd.–once a representative for Chinese silk and porcelain manufacturers–is the king of globalization. Based in Hong Kong, Li & Fung helps companies such as Reebok and Gymboree decide where to source and distribute everything from garments to toys to home furnishings, and helps clients market and brand their products, ship them, even monitor their suppliers’ labor practices. “It’s the relationships and the knowledge,” says Harold Sirkin, global operations practice leader at Boston Consulting Group. “They understand that business is global and they just know how to get things done in places where it’s tough to get things done.”
Behind the company’s leapfrogging from one century to the next stand two amazing brothers, William and Victor Fung, the third generation since the business began in 1906. Both Harvard b-school grads, the Fungs have grown the firm to an estimated $7.1 billion in sales in 2005, from $3.2 billion in 2000, simply by knowing more about their global markets than anyone else. “Our business is based on being ahead of the curve,” says William. “We’re not a company that has any machines. It all comes down to the idea that we are looking at a borderless manufacturing scenario.”
Despite constant new sources of cheap labor elsewhere, the Fungs think China and India will remain the global production kingpins, thanks to their booming infrastructures. But they’re also betting that the exploding Chinese middle class will drive world demand going forward. Either way, their shop will be in the middle of it.