BY BENJAMIN FANG
When you walk into Grand Meridian (GM) Printing’s office on Hunters Point Avenue in Long Island City, the first thing you’ll see is a wall adorned with accolades and awards.
They come from elected officials and trade associations, newspapers and industry leaders. Many have personal messages written on them, including a letter from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, congratulating the company on its expansion in 2009.
Behind it all is K.Y. Chow, president and founder of GM Printing. A Hong Kong native who speaks with a slight british accent, Chow took what was a small printing shop and turned it into a successful minority or women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) with several contracts with government agencies.
But Chow doesn’t come from a background in printing. In fact, he is a merchant banker by trade. In Hong Kong, Chow worked as a syndication manager for a decade. He was making a good living in one of the world’s largest financial centers.
In 1997, with the city’s return to China from British rule, that all changed. Chow’s father, who survived the civil war in China, encouraged him to “get away from communists” and head to the United States.
“That’s why I sacrificed a very good job in Hong Kong,” he said.
Chow arrived during another economic downturn, the October mini-crash of 1997. Caused by an economic crisis in Asia, the crash led the stock market to tumble. However, Chow said, it only took the economy a couple of months to recover.
Unable to get into the syndication market in New York, Chow instead worked as a director with Well Capital Management, a consulting company that managed hotels and franchisees. With his background, he helped oversee projects like a $14 million Holiday Inn on Lafayette Street.
The consulting group managed several major developments and businesses in Chinatown, including Golden Unicorn Restaurant and the now-defunct bakery chain Maria.
According to Chow, one of the local partners at the firm then wanted to unload some of the businesses they were managing to raise cash. He presented Chow with a proposal.
“He said, ‘We need money, I’m trying to liquidate some assets,’” Chow said, recalling the conversation. “Would you be interested in taking over the printing house?”
The Hong Kong native had to weigh a few factors. On the one hand, it’s better to “be your own boss” rather than be an employee, Chow said. But he knew nothing about the technical aspects of the printing industry.
He consulted with his wife, who also has a master’s in business administration and worked as a financial controller. She told him that it wasn’t a bad idea because she could still sustain the mortgage with her income.
Despite some lingering doubts and questions, Chow agreed to take over the printing house, establishing Grand Meridian Printing in 1993. The shop cost him $175,000, which at the time was his entire life savings.