Chinese businesswoman contributes to bridging Spain and China

Yang Jian
Margaret Chen is recognized as one of the 100 most influential Chinese in the world for her role in helping Spanish telecom giant Telefónica make inroads into China.
Yang Jian
Chinese businesswoman contributes to bridging Spain and China
Ti Gong

Margaret Chen, founder and CEO of Spanish consultancy company Optimus Horizon.

Margaret Chen was listed as one of the 100 most influential Chinese in the book "Models of Power," which was released last year.

She appears alongside giant personalities like Ren Zhengfei, the CEO of Huawei, Zhong Nanshan, the top COVID-19 expert, and billionaire Cao Dewang, who owns an American glass factory.

Chen, who was born in the early 1960s, lives in Spain and is among the 30 women on the list.

The China International Humanity Press said she was chosen primarily for her contribution to the alliance between Spanish telecom giant Telefónica and China Netcom. She founded a consulting firm to assist Chinese firms in expanding overseas, as well as the China Club Spain, an organisation for Chinese professionals living in Spain.

"The world is undergoing profound change," Chen says in the chapter devoted to her. "China's rise is changing the course of history, and overseas Chinese have an important mission in asserting our country's position."

Chen believes that her recent success is due to China's rapid development. She took advantage of the opportunities presented by China's historical milestones over the last two decades, such as reform and opening up, membership in the World Trade Organization, and the Belt and Road Initiative, to carve out her own successful career and life.

"I always say I've been extremely fortunate because China is rising," Chen explained.

Chinese businesswoman contributes to bridging Spain and China
Ti Gong

Chen (2nd right) poses with former fellow swimmers at Shanghai Sports School in 2019.

Chen has been living in Spain for almost three decades. She was named "the most influential Chinese in Spain" by the mainstream Spanish newspaper El País ten years ago and again early last year.

Chen, on the other hand, didn't see herself as a successful businesswoman. Instead, she saw herself as a link between two linguistically and culturally disparate countries.

"The Sino-Spain relationship has huge development potential, despite the deepening business and trade cooperation between the two countries," Chen said.

"Spain should serve as a pivotal and strategic point between China and the European Union as well as China and Latin America," she said.

The legendary life of the Shanghai native unfolded in the 1970s, when she won the swimming championship against hundreds of school students at the age of 11.

She won the gold medal several times for more than a decade. She participated in the then largest national swimming event, which was attended by 24 of 30 provinces all over China in 1976, and surpassed hundreds of competitors in the 100m freestyle in the preliminary rounds.

However, because of the death of Chairman Mao, the final round was suspended. Even so, she was later certified as a national champion. Chen said a swimmer's sporting life is usually short. However, in her five years at that school, such experience was decisive in training her perseverance and self-discipline.

After the restoration of the National College Entrance Examination, or gaokao, in 1978, Chen decided to pursue her high school and college studies instead of continuing her athletic career. She was enrolled in the district-level key high school in Hongkou District. She worked hard to catch up on everything she had missed while participating in sports.

During two years of hard work, she quickly outpaced the other students and, after striking a very high score, was enrolled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University to study the most desired engineering major.

Four years later, she graduated with dual bachelor's degrees in computer science and foreign trade. As one of the best students, she was offered the opportunity to become a faculty member and teach in the management school, which is now called Antai.

After China's reform and opening up, Chinese students started to have first opportunities to study overseas. After teaching at the university for two years, she was offered a research scholarship to study for a Master's degree in industrial engineering at the New Energy Excellence Center of Tennessee Tech University in the United States, where she met her husband, a prominent professional from a Spanish engineering multinational.

She then worked for ACS Software in the US, which developed the world's first e-commerce platform for the automotive manufacturer sector.

Chinese businesswoman contributes to bridging Spain and China
Ti Gong

Chen poses with her daughter at Cambridge University in 2019.

Chen and her husband moved to Spain in 1993 to begin a new chapter in their lives after seven years of studying and working in two different companies. She arrived knowing no Spanish and experienced severe culture shock.

However, due to her expertise in supply-chain management and e-commerce, she was hired as a senior consultant by Telefónica, the world's third largest telecommunications company. She played a part as the world discovered the Internet, mobile, broadband, smartcard, mobile content, and payment services.

The pivotal period in her career began in the summer of 2004, when the company began to explore relations with China with Telefónica looking for a share of the Chinese market.

When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, it had only recently opened its doors to foreign telecommunications companies.

Chen appeared to be the only employee among the 270,000-strong workforce who understood the technical complexities and spoke Mandarin.

She was instrumental in the collaboration between Telefónica and China Netcom, which was later merged into China Unicom, one of China's three major telecommunications carriers.

Telefónica put Chen in charge of its new office in Beijing at the beginning of 2005 as its director for Asia.

Telefónica invested more than US$3.5 billion in China over the next few years, becoming China Unicom's largest foreign shareholder. It became a model for Chinese companies successfully collaborating with their foreign counterparts.

Chinese businesswoman contributes to bridging Spain and China
Ti Gong

Chen shakes hands with Queen Letizia of Spain in 2018.

She was named one of the "most influential women in the telecommunications industry" by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology's official magazine.

A photograph in her office shows Chen sitting behind then-Chinese President Hu Jintao during the national leader's visit to Telefónica headquarters in Madrid in November 2005.

Chen left Telefónica in 2013 to start her own consulting firm, Optimus Horizon, which promotes economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.

"Everyone's career will have several watershed moments. Simply embrace it bravely and step out of your comfort zone," Chen told Shanghai Daily.

As China's multilateral international cooperation initiatives and "dual carbon" goals continue, Chen's company is now focusing on introducing Chinese high-tech green energy projects to Spain. Its clients include telecom companies as well as some of China's most important construction and new energy firms.

"China is the world's leading exporter of green energy equipment," Chen asserted. "There are enormous opportunities in Spain and Portugal for Chinese-made photovoltaic modules and other equipment."

Chinese businesswoman contributes to bridging Spain and China
Ti Gong

Chen chairs an innovation and start-up competition for overseas Chinese students in Spain in 2017.

In 2010, Chen founded the prestigious non-profit organisation China Club Spain to assist young Chinese learn and develop in Spain. It aims to improve the image and influence overseas Chinese.

The club has over 200 members, the majority of whom are highly educated elites from finance, telecommunications, law, media, consulting, tourism, fashion, scientific research, and higher education. It has grown to be one of Spain's most well-known and influential social organisations.

Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, the club quickly collected donations and purchased facial masks and hazmat suits for China. There were also several online discussions between medical professionals and volunteers from China and Spain.

She is also the vice president of the EU-China Trust, an initiative aimed at promoting mutual trust and cooperation between the EU and China.

She is the first and only Asian expert on the COTEC Foundation's "100 Experts in Innovation and Development," a Spanish foundation founded by the top 100 Spanish companies and led by King Felipe IV of Spain.

She co-founded "China Spain InnoVenture," which is dedicated to connecting innovative projects in Spain with the Chinese market and investments.

"I hope to assist the international community in better understanding China's development and contribution to the world," Chen said.

Chinese businesswoman contributes to bridging Spain and China
Ti Gong

Chen speaks at the 2nd Sino-Spain Communication Forum in 2018.

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