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How China Made This Entrepreneur

As a boy growing up in London, Jeremy Sargent used to seize the metal bars to the gates at Buckingham Palace and gaze at the towering mansion, wondering what goes on behind the walls of the Queen of Englands home. At that time he had no chance of realizing that a lot more than 40 years later he’d be invited inside, and he definitely didnt know it might be due to his China adventures.

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Jeremy Sargent receiving his OBE from Prince Charles

Those in Guangzhou may know Sargent because the founder and owner of The Happy Monk, a British-themed bar and restaurant with five stores located through the entire city. However, just what a large amount of people dont know is that his official title is Jeremy Sargent OBE (Order of the British Empire), that was granted to him for his services to British businesses in China. Sargent was also part of among the first sets of students to come quickly to China following the country’s reform and opening-up policies. We swept up with him for more information about his 30 years in the centre Kingdom.

It had been my father that pushed me to come quickly to China, explains Sargent in a quiet corner of The Happy Monk in Taojin, Guangzhous Yuexiu district. I lived in Hong Kong with my mom and dad in the first 80s and my father could note that China was checking.

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Posing with an area baby in Guangzhou, 1986

Sargents father, an engineer focusing on international projects between Hong Kong and the uk, discouraged his son from following in his footsteps and getting an engineering degree, and instead pushed him towards Mandarin studies.

He said It’s simpler to teach Mandarin speakers engineering skills than to instruct an engineer Mandarin. So, I did so my first degree at Leeds University in the Department of East Asian studies with a concentrate on Modern Chinese and graduated in 1990. But I was always captivated by the Oriental. As a youngster in Hong Kong, I learned over 100 Chinese characters by copying subtitles on TV.”

While studying in Leeds, Sargent and his classmates spent per year their studies at Fudan University, Shanghai.

Many people don’t understand that even through the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and directly afterward, there have been foreigners surviving in China, however, not many, Sargent explains. We were among the early waves of students. Although we werent the initial, there weren’t many foreign students in China then.

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Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region

During his year in Shanghai, Sargent enjoyed long holidays in the summertime, winter and through the Chinese New Year. He traveled mainly on hard sleeper trains and spent the Lunar New Year celebrations surviving in a hut in the center of winter in Lhasa, the administrative centre of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

It had been freezing and we’d altitude sickness, so we didnt travel far outside the city, Sargent reminisces, while going for a sip from his cappuccino, which a The Happy Monk waiter has just brought over. There have been no restrictions then, we’re able to travel using our China visa. For most people there, it had been their first-time seeing foreigners and we just hung round the city taking everything in.

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The hut in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region

Whenever we spoke to Sargent, he previously just returned from the visit to Yangshuo, a city in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region he first visited in 1987.

Yangshuo is really a popular tourist spot in South China, known because of its beautiful rivers and mountains which feature on the countrys RMB20 banknote. However, despite its link with the countryside and vast farming networks, the citys center has turned into a thriving commercial hub. The town center is really a different world from the countryside that lies on its doorstep; the famous West Road is filled with clubs, bars and a sea of western restaurants. Even though Sargent stepped foot in Yangshuo over 30 years back, he could start to see the road it had been heading down.

Yangshuo was among the first places in China you can get a slice of pizza and a can of coke, the China veteran recalls. People would travel there for the novelty of experiencing a coke in China. To place it into perspective, I recall back the 80s people would joke about McDonald’s arriving at China as though it could never happen.

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Jeremy Sargent’s friend posing for an image with the manager of a pizza restaurant in Yangshuo

China has come quite a distance since that time. The novelty of coke and pizza snowballed, ultimately allowing people like Sargent to open establishments like the Happy Monk and bring bites of the West to the Chinese mainland.

Sargent left China after his year in Shanghai and returned to England, where he worked a number of different jobs. It wasnt until 1996 he would make his go back to the Chinese mainland and reside in Guangzhou, a city he’s got now called home for 26 years.

I did so some odd jobs in England for a couple years but I didnt really know very well what to accomplish. I thought easily get yourself a law qualification, at the very least Ill have the ability to pay back my student debt, therefore i did a law conversion.

After finding a law degree in the first 90s, Sargent moved back again to Hong Kong where he worked as a solicitor at Stephenson Harwood. After finishing a two-year training curriculum, regulations firm asked him if he wished to make the progress north and work at work they were establishing in Guangzhou.

It had been originally a six-month posting, but youre learning so much and before very long, half a year becomes per year, per year becomes two, and by the finish, I had stayed using them for 10 years.

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Riding bikes around Guangzhou in 1986

His time working as an attorney in Guangzhou would actually prove pivotal in his capability to utilize the Chinese market and open The Happy Monk, among Guangzhous hottest establishments offering live music and authentic western food.

After leaving Stephenson Harwood in 2007, Sargent continued to open their own business consultancy firm, JSA China Consultancy. The business became a huge hit, regularly representing Fortune 100 clients who wished to enter the Chinese market. Although Sargent couldnt say what those companies are (they’re clients in the end) he did reveal what his firm does.

Our role at JSA was to sort of peel the onion, the layers, and move on to the stage where an organization felt better advised and better informed about how exactly to enter the Chinese market.

Wed consider the options, how exactly to structure it from the corporate and from the legal perspective and have whether they are likely to look for a Chinese partner, are they establishing from scratch and so are they creating a factory? That is clearly a large amount of the bread-and-butter work that people i did so.

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Yangshuo, 1986

Armed with a massive understanding of the Chinese market and fluent in Mandarin from his long tenure in the united kingdom, Sargent opened The Happy Monk in 2010 along with his wife Qingqing.

It seemed enough time was right, but we didnt desire to jump into anything. Originally, we were considering a restaurant and we thought perhaps a gastrobar.

For all those not sure just what a gastrobar is, in the united kingdom you can find pubs and gastropubs. A normal pub is really a drinking home with beer, wines and spirits, whereas a gastropub offers good food in a restaurant cross pub kind of establishment. A gastrobar is that same design of restaurant, but with an increase of bar than pub vibes.

As to the reasons Sargent made the jump, he says I love bringing people together and I’m quite sociable. The thought of hospitality felt just like a natural choice. It had been a punt; this industry is notoriously difficult when you begin. Were lucky as the consumer market in China is continuing to grow very quickly during the last decade, so we type of rode that wave somewhat.

Sargents wife is in charge of the look, the menus and the overall presentation of The Happy Monk establishments. But its greater than a family business in the sense it had been opened by way of a couple.

Several key members of staff have already been with The Happy Monk right from the start, like the bar manager Silver, who started as a barman and manager Lili, who celebrated her 12th anniversary with the business early this season. That’s where Sargent spends the majority of his time, he’s a people developer and really wants to mentor his staff to end up being the best person they may be.

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Sargent and his OBE at Buckingham Palace

Always striving to boost himself and his business, Sargent completed a worldwide EMBA in Marketing and Admissions create by London Business School, Columbia University Business School and Hong Kong University Business School in 2019.

The course allowed him to visit between London, NY and Hong Kong to wait different business schools over a two-year period. Once we wind down our chat, its the idea of always learning that people end on.

I’ll continue to keep chipping away at learning Chinese, for certain. Its a language that requires plenty of attention if youre likely to learn it, Sargent explains, whenever we ask him whats next coming for a guy who must keep progressing.

Recently, Ive been considering learning video editing because video as a medium has just exploded. As you can plainly see from my pictures, Ive always recorded things and kept memories however, not everyone in my own day was like this. This future generation could have everything recorded.

Sargent is really a regular attendee at most of the Happy Monk events throughout Guangzhou, starting from cocktail academies to club nights and watching football to storytelling. If you need to experience them on your own, scan the QR code to check out The Happy Monk on WeChat.


[All images via Jeremy Sargent OBE]

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