Transferring Billionaire Jim Thompson Parlays Paper Storage Into Earnings

Regardless of the rising digitalization of knowledge, Crown Worldwide’s Jim Thompson has constructed up a really worthwhile enterprise in storing paperwork.


ALMOST HALF a century after the phrase “paperless society” was coined, the world is producing extra paper than ever—and that’s proving a boon for Hong Kong-based billionaire Jim Thompson. Now 83, Thompson has diversified his Crown Worldwide Group far past its core enterprise of relocations, and has discovered a really worthwhile, if considerably stunning, area of interest with an age-old service, storing paperwork.

The shifting enterprise nonetheless offers the most important slice of income, 45% of final 12 months’s complete of $824 million, however his most worthwhile enterprise is document storage—together with protecting mountains of paper for shoppers. That produced 29% of web revenue final 12 months, whereas relocations generated 16%. (As a privately held firm, Crown doesn’t disclose revenue figures.)

Regardless of the rising digitalization of knowledge, with billions being spent to create new information facilities around the globe, mockingly the quantity of paper data is on the rise too. “The enterprise of our storage of paperwork is rising as nicely,” says Thompson, who’s price an estimated $1.8 billion on this 12 months’s Forbes World’s Billionaires record. His fortune relies on his sole possession of Crown, which he began in Japan in 1965 with an funding of lower than $1,000.

Crown’s government chairman sees storage companies as a steadier income stream to offset the seasonal enterprise of relocations, which occur largely in the summertime. The years when Covid-19 disrupted the worldwide financial system didn’t dent the shifting enterprise—actually, simply the other. Crown says it made 45,000 worldwide relocations final 12 months, its most ever.

The paper storage enterprise is beneath the division of Crown Data Administration, a 12 months-a-year operation that’s the other of shifting folks and private results—it’s protecting items securely in place. “For the entire time, these bins generate earnings and fixed income … It’s a great enterprise in that sense, very regular earnings,” Thompson says in an interview within the first warehouse he developed in Hong Kong, within the New Territories’ Sha Tin district. “And there’s the property facet of it.”

Thompson owns 74 air-conditioned industrial warehouses in 48 international locations and has leased one other 105. Crown’s storage enterprise covers not simply paper however cosmetics, perfumes and couture in addition to artwork. There are additionally racks holding 1.1 million bottles of wine. In temperature-controlled cupboards and vaults, there are 1.4 million CD-ROMs and magnetic tapes.

After which there’s the paper paperwork. Thompson began this enterprise in 1984, storing 25,000 bins, every with a capability of 1.1 cubic toes. At current, the quantity in use is about 50 million, and counting; the corporate initiatives 52 million by 2025.


Packing and Stacking

The variety of bins that Crown makes use of to retailer paper paperwork has soared over the previous 20 years.


Corporations preserve a paper path for various causes, associated to inside insurance policies, authorities necessities or potential litigation. Not like digital information, which might be simply modified, paper additionally offers a extra everlasting, and due to this fact safe, document of knowledge.

In Hong Kong, Thompson notes, contracts and associated paperwork have to be retained for seven years, and it’s not unusual for corporations to decide on to maintain them for 12 years. Some banks have in-house guidelines to retain bodily data for so long as 15 years.

As these companies may not have the house to retailer all that paper, they rent Crown to retailer it for them. “There’s increasingly data on account of the web. And quite a lot of it’s digital, however quite a lot of it finally ends up on paper and people paper paperwork are retained,” Thompson says. “So each are rising.”

To deal with his increasing storage enterprise, Thompson accrued a group of business properties whose worth has shot up, because of elevated property costs, particularly in locations similar to Hong Kong and Singapore. When he constructed the four-story Sha Tin warehouse on land purchased in 1985, it was one of many tallest buildings within the neighborhood. At present, it’s dwarfed by industrial and residential high-rises.

“For the entire time, these bins generate earnings and fixed income.”

Thompson says that property accounted for 15% of the Crown Worldwide’s web revenue final 12 months. Crown’s property unit leases warehouse house to the group’s record-management firm. With a property portfolio price greater than $1 billion, bankers have proposed to Thompson to arrange an actual property funding belief. However he turned it down, wanting to remain utterly personal. “I’m a collector of property, not a dealer,” he says.

Henry Chin, property consultancy CBRE’s international head of investor thought management, Asia-Pacific, says previously demand to lease house for storage was restricted as many companies simply used basements or different areas they owned. However within the final decade that’s modified, he says, with rising want for good warehouses geared up with automation and robots, air-conditioning and photo voltaic panels.

In Asia-Pacific, the general storage enterprise remains to be small in contrast with america—that means Thompson has loads of runway for progress. CBRE put the U.S. complete of business warehousing capa-city, on the finish of 2022, at 588 million sq. toes, a 17% enhance over the earlier 12 months. Europe had 260 million sq. toes (a 13% enhance) whereas Asia-Pacific had solely 51 million sq. toes (up 8%).

One competitor for Crown in Asia is New York-listed storage agency Iron Mountain, which has operations in 60 international locations, together with a data storage enterprise. It manages 97 million sq. toes, together with 23 million that it owns. By comparability, Crown has warehousing capability of 45 million sq. toes. As of April 10, Iron Mountain had a market cap of $15.3 billion.

THOMPSON ISN’T the primary member of his household concerned in shifting. His father labored for a California-based mover with operations in Japan. Whereas finding out aeronautical engineering at San Jose State School (later renamed San Jose State College), Thompson visited Japan and cherished it. Upon commencement, he discovered employment with the identical agency the place his father labored, permitting him to return and work in its Yokohama department, till there was a parting rooted in disagreements. The daddy persuaded the 25-year-old son to start out his personal shifting enterprise in Japan.

Thompson had one native worker and a rented truck. However he additionally had a beneficial mentor in his father, who had lived in Japan at one time. The primary job was shifting a household’s belongings from Japan to California. The second was a large inbound cargo for an government in Tokyo. Thompson helped with packing and loading containers. “It was hand to mouth within the first 12 months,” he recollects. Three years later, he bought his first truck. In 1970, Thompson introduced in a enterprise associate, with whom he launched an organization in Hong Kong. In 1978, he purchased out his associate and made his personal relocation, shifting base from Japan to Hong Kong.

Transferring at all times has a storage element, as folks have to quickly retailer home goods. In massive warehouses within the U.S. and U.Okay. within the mid-Nineteen Seventies, Thompson observed one thing not then seen in Asia: racks of doc bins subsequent to family items. He started providing a record-storage service to shoppers in Hong Kong, utilizing leased house. The timing was good, with China opening up and Hong Kong workplace rents taking pictures via the roof. “We needed to introduce the idea of outsourcing that work to corporations, to persuade them to ship it out of their places of work,” he says.

Thompson began Crown in Japan in 1965 with an funding of lower than $1,000. Now he owns 74 air-conditioned industrial warehouses in 48 international locations and has leased one other 105.

With an increasing shopper base, Crown entered 20 years of acquisitions, till 2000, to maneuver past Asia. Significantly busy had been the late Nineteen Nineties, with acquisitions in North and South America, the U.Okay., Australia and South Africa. “Now we have been rising for the reason that Nineteen Eighties,” he says. “It has by no means stopped.”

In 2006, Crown paid about $87 million for the enterprise companies division within the U.Okay. and Eire of then-New York-listed Sirva, which raised Crown’s storage enterprise to 14 million cartons for 10,000 shoppers in 46 international locations.

From 2015–2020, Crown’s map unfold once more, boosted by acquisitions in Malaysia and Australia. And Thompson goals for growth “over the following few years,” so he retains on the lookout for data corporations that may be on the market. Requested what locations are priorities, he names the cities of Adelaide and Tianjin in addition to India and Vietnam.

Thompson says prime markets for 2022 for document administration, together with bodily and digital storage, digital scanning and retrieval companies, had been Australia, India and Hong Kong, in that order, however “all of Southeast Asia was very sturdy as nicely.”


Property Increase

Crown Worldwide says property accounted for 15% of web revenue final 12 months.


In proportion phrases, the nation with the quickest income progress for storage final 12 months was India, with a 12% enhance, whereas established markets such because the U.S. and Europe grew from 4% to six%. For the following couple years, Thompson expects annual international income progress of at the least 6%, including which may be a conservative determine.

Alongside the trail to Crown’s success, there have been bumps. In a certified firm historical past revealed for its fiftieth anniversary in 2015, Thompson talked about dismissing disloyal managers and coping with mass defections. Thompson relinquished the CEO title in 2019 to then-chief monetary officer Ken Madrid.

His designated successor is the older of his two kids, Jennifer Harvey. At 54, Harvey has been with the corporate since 1993 and now heads U.S. operations from New York. His son, Jim Thompson Jr., a fluent Mandarin speaker, runs his personal actual property funding firm, Throne, from Beijing.

Harvey, a marathon runner, says in an e mail that maybe crucial of many issues discovered from her father is connecting with folks. “He’ll meet somebody as soon as, then see them once more ten years later and bear in mind very particular issues about them,” she says.

Till final 12 months, Thompson marked his birthdays by doing the identical variety of push-ups because the age he had simply reached. A shoulder damage made him halt the custom after 82. He clearly isn’t exiting the enterprise quickly. “I like buildings, I like vans. And I’ve expert folks working for me; that’s the way in which I construct an organization.”

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