Jim Thompson & Jimmy Thompson
Founder & Chairman, The Crown Worldwide Group & Managing Director, Crown Worldwide Group Sdn. Bhd.
After 50 years in business, Crown Worldwide has handled everything from alligators to the King of Tonga’s throne and even the priceless ‘Mona Lisa’ painting at the Louvre. With 250 offices in 50 countries and a global turnover of USD850 million, EZ speaks to the father-and-son team about their success story so far.
‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ – so the old bard, (Shakespeare) believed but others are convinced there are advantages in sticking with a good name, be it recognition or influence. Perhaps that would account for three generations of James ‘Jim’ Thompson in this family of self-made men. ‘In the Irish tradition, usually the name stays in the family – not directly one to another, but usually grandfather to grandchild. But for some reason my father gave me the same name he had, and I gave it to my son,’ laughs Jim Thompson.
‘My father was an amazing man,’ Jim, remembers. ‘He came from nothing – poverty, and made a success of his life. I felt that having done what he did and giving me the opportunity to get an education, I should build on that.’
Crown Worldwide was founded in 1965 when a young Jim Thompson who was residing in Japan recognised the need for a reputable international moving service. With only USD1,000 to his name, Jim established Transport Services International in Yokohama. Even here, the significance of a ‘good name’ would become apparent.
‘People used to forget that name; they couldn’t get it right. So when we opened in Hong Kong for a second operation, we wanted to name it something different, something we could associate with a symbol,’ explains Jim. ‘Crown emerged as a nice name of quality, royalty and all that. It became very popular in Hong Kong so we kept the name for all our operations.’
By 1975, Crown Pacific would expand into Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and other Asia Pacific regions, becoming the leading relocation company in Asia. The expansion was accompanied by a new name to reflect the company’s global presence; this time the name was to remain Crown Worldwide Group with Crown Relocations being one of its primary division. The other divisions include Crown Fine Art, Crown Logistics, Crown Records Management, Crown Wine Cellars and Crown World Mobility.
According to Jim, the phenomenal success of the company was not something he anticipated or expected. ‘People often ask about Asia and I can’t honestly say it was a vision. It was a startup like any startup company. There’s always this effort to just survive for the first few years. And then as you get going, you say, ‘maybe we can do this well,’ and we just kept expanding and that’s been successful.’ Timing also lent a helping hand as world globalisation was accelerating and Crown and its divisions were there to serve the mobile and logistic requirements.
‘That was our constant effort, to convince people that we are the best. We’ve always been fanatical about quality and I think that has paid off because people use our services and tell their friends about it. We developed over fifty years and became the only global company in our business,’ continues Jim.
Crown was only 10 years old when they opened here in Malaysia, four decades ago, but it has seen rapid growth, brand distinction and even acquired a sense of exclusivity. ‘We like people to think of us as high quality, top of the market. Most people in the industry require three quotations. So long as they call us even if they think we are expensive, they find that we are not. We’re quite competitive with the other good companies in town,’ explains Jim. ‘When they see that our quote is reasonable we stand a good chance of getting business.’
Though they may share the same name, the father and son team did not always share the same career ambitions. ‘I always hoped that my children would be in the company someday, I think most fathers would, but I think that, he knew when he graduated from university that if he wouldn’t join Crown, he would have to go and get his own job, which he did, in China.’
A request by one of the operating managers to assist with a project in China led to Jimmy joining the company officially and staying with Crown for 15 years. ‘My first thought was I needed to pay my rent,’ he chuckles. ‘Second thought was, well, I’ll get the project done and then I’ll look for something else. But I guess, I’m just that good and here I am!’
Having married and resided in China for almost 18 years, the opportunity to relocate to Malaysia was too good to miss. ‘It was a time of change for me and an opportunity came up in the organisation as well. I was very pleased to come to a place with cleaner air, a new environment and very friendly people.’Of course, there were some domestic arrangements to consider as well. ‘To be honest, my wife said this was the only place she would move to if she left China,’ he grins.
Nevertheless, the move would prove to be mutually beneficial for both, man and company. ‘I speak Chinese and I also have certain skills in different sectors of the business, that other employees don’t have in Malaysia − particularly on the logistics side of the business, which can be used to really build up the development of the business in Malaysia.’
‘Crown emerged as a nice name of quality, royalty and all that. It became very popular in Hong Kong so we kept the name for all our operations.’
– Jim Thompson
As for managing the operations of over 5,000 employees and contractors worldwide, it may not be an easy feat but the Thompsons have taken it well in their stride. ‘We have to really motivate them, centralize them with compensation, whether through salary or recognition for their good services,’ says Jim. ‘Frankly I think we have one of the best teams, certainly in our industry.’
Respect is a key ingredient in the management style at Crown. ‘I started the company and I’m still here, but it’s all these people who built the business for me. I really think about that all the time. Whether they’re driving a truck or cleaning the offices or someone in a management position, I try to respect these great men and I think this has sort of filtered down to our team.’
Working for his father’s company does not seem to affect Jimmy in any way. ‘Well, Crown is a pretty big company and there are different layers of management. We do work closely together sometimes but mostly with the management team within Crown.’
Jim agrees, ‘I think the important thing is that Jimmy doesn’t work directly for me. He’s my son so we talk a lot, but his boss is actually the head of the Asia Pacific region. I think that’s good because he’ll be mentored by that guy, who’s also quite experienced.’
But there is no denying Junior’s admiration for the man who built the company. ‘I always look at my dad, who has a very positive attitude. Even though times may be tough, he’s always got a positive outlook. He’s been in the business for so many years, that all the experience that I or anyone else can give is just a story.’
As for what the future holds for these enterprising men and their business, there is talk of a book and quite possibly a museum. ‘I’m hopeful that Crown as a company will be able to build an art collection as well. Many businesses do that and I thank this opportunity because in Asia, art is coming up so much, it’s fantastic. We’re in a position to buy pieces from time to time and build a Malaysian art collection,’ muses Jim, who is himself an art collector. ‘I love art, so I hope that my collection will be passed on and hopefully grow in the future.’
The passage of time has been a reflective time for this charismatic man who has achieved so much through hard work, determination and mutual respect. And it’s a life story he wishes to preserve for the next generation. ‘I realised when I saw a lot of people in the office today, that not one of them was 40 years old. So they weren’t here when the company started in Malaysia. And they and the ones coming after should know what Crown was in the beginning. I want it written down accurately, with old pictures … I want to tell my own story as well, about what it’s been like.’