【英语中国】香港联业制衣:一个时代的缩影 Shirt tales from TAL, an apparel powerhouse

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所属分类:双语中国

2014-1-9 15:14

小艾摘要: When Harry Lee took over TAL, a Hong Kong apparel company that manufactures shirts and trousers for dozens of big global brands in 1980, one of the first challenges he tackled was bribery.“There was ...
Shirt tales from TAL, an apparel powerhouse
When Harry Lee took over TAL, a Hong Kong apparel company that manufactures shirts and trousers for dozens of big global brands in 1980, one of the first challenges he tackled was bribery.

“There was still a lot of hanky-panky going on?.?.?.?I was given three written pages of how many per cent we’d pay to this customer and how many per cent we’d pay to that customer,” says Mr Lee, sitting in his spartan office in Kowloon, across the harbour from Hong Kong island.

Back then, the company was known as much for its nocturnal activities in Tsim Sha Tsui – a Kowloon district where hawkers still offer tailored clothes – as for shirts. Its monthly entertainment bill was HK$200,000. “If you went to the best Chinese restaurant, a very good table with shark fin ?.?.?.?was less than HK$1,000,” says Mr Lee. “Where did all the rest of the money go, what do you think? Women. We were very well-known in all the nightclubs in Hong Kong.”

Mr Lee, now 71, changed the culture, slashed the monthly expenses to HK$15,000 and spent three decades expanding TAL into a US$800m revenue company with 25,000 employees and 11 factories across Asia.

Barely known outside Hong Kong, it is now one of the world’s biggest ap-parel manufacturers, making 56m garments a year. In one factory in Dongguan, a shirt from each client hangs on a wall for training purposes. From Eddie Bauer and Banana Republic to Gieves & Hawkes and Burberry, it reads like a Who’s Who of high-street fashion. Brooks Brothers is such a big buyer that TAL can claim to make one in every six dress shirts sold in the US.

Almost accidentally, Mr Lee ended up as one of Hong Kong’s best known businessmen. As a young man he had gone to the UK to study electrical engineering and then to the US, where he received a PhD from Brown.

He returned to Hong Kong after his uncle coaxed him back for a vacation with a return flight and then persuaded him to join the business. By then, the company, established as a family textile mill in 1946, was well known as one of the textile businesses that had fuelled the local economy after the second world war. But its Hong Kong roots owed more to chance, and Mao Zedong, than design.

Three years before Mao took power in China, CC Lee, Mr Lee’s uncle, founded South China Textile Limited in Shanghai, then home to several prominent textile families. But the final years of the civil war that propelled the Communists to power in 1949 were taking a toll on the local industrialists.

CC Lee had ordered spinning equipment from the US for a mill in Chongqing. But facing problems securing an import licence, he offloaded the mach-ines in Hong Kong. The father of seven then moved to the British colony, where he opened its first textile factory, paving the way for other ind-ustrialists who later fled the Communists.

“That was the beginning of Hong Kong. The textile business was one of the major businesses and employment providers,” says Mr Lee. “There were two gangs who basically controlled it. The people from Shanghai and people from Chaozhou [in Guangdong]?.?.?.?we were the Shanghai mafia.”

In the early days, says Mr Lee, “it was not difficult to make money”, as labour costs in Hong Kong were so low. Local companies also benefited from Japan’s textile industry having been destroyed in the war. The Toyoda family – better known today for the Toyota car company – had, for example, lost all their textile factories.

In the 1960s, things became more complicated as Britain and the US started to worry that textile imports from Hong Kong – and Japan, whose industry had recovered – were bankrupting their domestic mills. US President John F Kennedy’s administration ushered in a quota system that would last until 2005. Mr Lee says this prompted TAL to open factories in other countries.

“Initially from Hong Kong, we went to Taiwan, went to Thailand?.?.?.? searching for countries that had no quota,” says Mr Lee.

As part of that expansion, Mr Lee was sent to Malaysia to run a lossmaking factory shortly after his return to Hong Kong from the US with his Cuban-born Chinese wife. That was followed by another Malaysian factory that had 3,000 workers, 1,500 looms and 100,000 spindles. “I was sitting there, big table, really scary, losing money like crazy,” says Mr Lee. “I was sitting there with no idea what to do. I’d never seen a spinning machine before. That’s how I started.”

But after proving he could turn round factories, Mr Lee was called back to Hong Kong in late 1979 to take over the garment business, as one of his uncle’s partners, who had been in charge, branched out on his own and poached staff. “The garment division was totally vacuumed,” says Mr Lee. “He was friendly but he still took a lot of people from us.”

TAL grew – with profit margins of about 20 per cent – but eventually Hong Kong succumbed to the same fate that Britain and America had met decades before, as other countries became cheaper sources of labour. So he decided to open a factory in China.

“My uncle came to Hong Kong because of the Communists, so he just had no trust in the Communists. By 1995?.?.?.?we had no choice. The labour costs were getting higher everywhere so we basically decided to try it.”

Mr Lee says the move helped, but now that factory and another one nearby are falling victim to the same pressures that have forced textile manufacturing to shift from the west to East Asia and, more recently, to countries such as Bangladesh. “Now it’s terrible. We cannot get workers, turnover is high, wages are high.”

Although Mr Lee is quasi-retired – having handed the CEO title to his son Roger (see box) last year – he retains the title of chairman and comes to work every day. He also still manages the account for one of his oldest customers – an 81-year-old nun called Sister M Laetitia who has been cloistered in a convent in Ohio for almost six decades. He sources cloth in Hong Kong and then ships it to the nun who sews the habits and vestments for the 15 barefoot women who spend their days praying in the Monastery of the Poor Clares.

Mr Lee has been to visit the woman, who must be separated from visitors by a grated divide. She is his sister. Even today, he remembers the day 58 years ago when his father learnt he would never embrace his oldest child again.

“That’s the only time I’ve ever seen my father cry. It was really sad.”

上个世纪八十年代,当李乃熺(Harry Lee,见右图左)接手香港服装集团联业制衣(TAL)时,他面临的一系列挑战之一是贿赂。联业制衣为众多全球大品牌生产衬衫和裤子。

在与香港岛一水之隔的九龙,李乃熺坐在自己简朴的办公室里,说:“那时仍存在很多不正当行为……有人给了我3页纸,上面写着我们要向这位客户支付了多少比例,要向那个客户支付多少比例。”

回首当初,该公司在九龙尖沙咀的夜间活动与它生产的衬衫一样有名。在尖沙咀,当时还有小贩们兜售定制服装。该公司每月的招待费为20万港元。“如果你去最好的中餐馆,点一桌非常好的菜,包括鱼翅……费用也不到1000港元。”李乃熺说,“其他的钱都花到哪里去了?你说呢?女人。在香港所有的夜总会,我们都很有名。”

现年71岁的李乃熺改变了这种文化,他将每月招待开支降至1.5万港元,并用30年时间,将联业制衣打造成了一家营收高达8亿美元、拥有2.5万名员工、在亚洲各地设有11家工厂的大型集团。

尽管在香港之外并不怎么出名,但该公司现在已成为全球最大服装制造商之一,每年生产5600万件服装。在东莞的一家工厂,出于培训用途,有一面墙上悬挂着每位客户订购的衬衫。在那面墙上,从艾迪堡(Eddie Bauer)、香蕉共和国(Banana Republic)、吉凡克斯(Gieves & Hawkes)到博柏利(Burberry),均赫然在列,堪称一份“高街”时装企业名录。布克兄弟(Brooks Brothers)也是联业制衣的一位大客户。如今,联业制衣可以这样宣称:目前在美国销售的衬衫中,每6件就有1件是由联业制衣生产的。

李乃熺最终成为香港知名商人,这却几乎出于偶然。年轻时,他曾赴英国学习电子工程,然后又赴美国深造,获得了布朗大学(Brown)的博士学位。

他的叔叔李雍熙用一张回程机票诱骗他回香港度假,然后又说服他加盟联业制衣。当时,创立于1946年、最初为家族企业的联业制衣,已是一家非常知名的纺织企业,因为它是二战后对香港经济发展做出突出贡献的企业之一。不过,该公司之所以在香港生根发芽,并非刻意计划,而是更多地缘于机缘巧合以及毛泽东。

毛泽东在中国建立政权的3年前,李雍熙的父亲李震之在上海创建了大南纺织有限公司(South China Textile Limited)。当时,上海有数个家世显赫的纺织世家。但在1949年中共上台前、解放战争的最后几年里,时势对上海的实业家们造成了冲击。

当时,李震之从美国订购了一批纺织设备,打算运往重庆工厂。但由于申请进口许可时遇到了一些问题,那批机器被卸在了香港。后来,这位有7个子女的父亲举家迁往当时还是英国殖民地的香港,在那里开设了香港第一家纺织厂,为后来其他一些逃离中共政权的实业家铺平了道路。

“就这样,我们的家族事业开始在香港生根发芽。纺织业成为香港的一个主要行业、并大量吸纳就业。”李乃熺说,“当时控制香港纺织业的主要有两个帮派,上海帮和(广东)潮州帮……我们是上海帮。”

李乃熺说,在最初的那段日子里,“钱并不难赚”,因为香港的人工成本非常低。日本的纺织业在战争中遭到毁灭,这一点也令香港企业受益。例如,丰田(Toyoda)家族(后来因丰田汽车(Toyota)而更为知名)就在战争中失去了所有的纺织厂。

上世纪60年代,情况变得更为复杂,因为英国和美国开始担心,来自香港(以及当时工业已复苏的日本)的进口产品会导致本国纺织厂破产。在美国总统约翰?肯尼迪(John F Kennedy)主政时期,美国政府推出了一项将一直持续到2005年的配额制。李乃熺表示,这促使联业制衣开始赴其他地区办厂。

李乃熺说:“一开始,我们从香港来到台湾、泰国……寻找那些不受有配额制限制的地区。”

马来西亚也是联业制衣扩张业务的一个目标。从美国回到香港后不久,李乃熺被派到那里,经营一家出现亏损的工厂,在古巴出生的华人妻子与他同行。后来,他又被派到了另一家马来西亚工厂,那家工厂拥有3000名员工、1500部织机和10万个纺锤。“我坐在那里,面对偌大的桌子,内心非常恐惧。工厂每一天都亏很多钱,简直像疯了一样。”李乃熺表示,“我坐在那里,毫无头绪。我以前从没有亲眼看到过纺织机。我就是这样起步的。”

但在事实证明李乃熺能够让这些工厂起死回生之后,他于1979年底被召回香港,接手了服装业务,因为原来的负责人、他叔叔的一名合伙人另立门户,还挖走了许多员工。“服装部门被彻底掏空了。”李乃熺表示,“他很友好,但他从我们这里带走了很多人。”

联业制衣发展得不错,利润率为20%左右,但面对其他地区更为廉价的劳动力,英国和美国几十年前面临的命运最终也降临到香港头上。于是,他决定在中国内地设厂。

“我的叔叔之所以来到香港就是因为共产党,因此他一点也不相信共产党。但到1995年……我们别无选择了。到处的人工成本都在上涨,因此我们基本上决定试一试。”

李乃熺表示,此举当时有所帮助,但如今,内地那家工厂和附近的另外一家工厂也再次沦为这种压力的牺牲品,这种压力曾迫使纺织制造业从西方转向东亚,最近又转向孟加拉等人工更低廉的国家。“现在那里的情况很糟糕。我们招不到人,人员流动率很高,工人薪资也很高。”

尽管李乃熺现在处于准退休状态(他去年已将首席执行官一职交给他的儿子李国权(Roger)),但他仍保留着董事长一职,而且每天都来上班。他还亲自管理着他的一位老客户——现年81岁的修女Sister M Laetitia。她在俄亥俄州的一个修道院里静修,迄今已近60年了。他从香港采购布料,然后发到这位修女那里,她为15位在Monastery of the Poor Clares修道院终日祈祷的赤足妇女缝制道服和祭服。

李乃熺看望过这位修女,她与访客中间必须隔着护栏。她是他的姐姐。甚至到今天,他还记得58年前的那天,当时他的父亲得知,自己再也无法拥抱这个最大的孩子了。

“那是我唯一一次看到父亲哭。那确实让人悲伤。”

译者/梁艳裳

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