The founder of creative design studio Moulin Orange in Taiwan may have been born with entrepreneurial DNA, but his own success in business has been hard fought and won.
“My grandmother is said to be the founder of Taiwanese cuisine,” says Laurent Shen, owner of Moulin Orange, whose powerhouse clients have included Nike, Adidas and New Balance. “She set up her own chain restaurants and founded food processing plants. In the ’70s or ’80s, our products were so well-known in Taiwan even children could sing our advertising song.”
But growing up, his grandmother’s natural success didn’t seem to smoothly translate to Shen’s father, who was forced to leave the family business after an accident.
“In my childhood memory, I did not feel much warmth,” Shen says. “After the accident, my family was treated indifferently by our grandmother and relatives. Because of the background of our family, people treated us well when we were outside, so I struggled under two such opposite conditions.”
Unhappy with himself, Shen began to search for deeper meaning in life, visiting temples and fortune-tellers, exploring different types of qigong meditation, and reading classical spiritual texts such as the Diamond Sutra.
“The experience probably made me aware that there are some unknown things existing in this world, but you can never find real release from these things,” he says.
In 1994, Shen left Taiwan to attend a respected architecture school in France, where he excelled for the first time in his life. But due to his family’s financial difficulties, he had to return to Taiwan before finishing his degree.
With his first taste of success, Shen had a newfound belief in himself and started his own design company half a year after returning to Taiwan.
“I had a hot temper at that time — years of repression made me feel inferior,” says Shen. “I was conceited and insisting on having my own way.” Within one year, Shen and his business partner’s relationship became unmanageable, and the company broke up.
But Shen didn’t quit, and started a boutique design firm with his brother, naming it Moulin Orange — homage to his fondness for Paris and respect for Steve Jobs.
“Almost every [Moulin-named business] has a windmill and a water wheel — isn’t designing also honed slowly, gradually, and naturally as driven by the wind and water?” Shen says. Though its creative journey may have been slow and steady, the company bore fruit right away when Nike visited them at their home in June of 2000.
“My brother and I, still wearing our slippers, listened to their offer for a project with a budget that sounded like an astronomical number for young people who just started their business,” Shen says. “Since we were so lucky to have a customer like Nike, we needed to achieve an international standard,” he says. “So I was very harsh to my employees. If I was not satisfied with what they do, I would shout with abuse. I thought blaming could make employees improve.”
But the employees didn’t react how Shen wanted. He later found out that a dozen employees even worked together on a project outside of work, leaving the owner feeling betrayed. For new direction, Shen then sought out the advice of his favourite psychic.
“I felt that she was different from other psychics,” he says. “She always told me to solve problems by methods of kindness.”
But when Shen found her, she told him she had given up her career as a psychic to practice cultivation in Falun Dafa, an ancient mind-body system that focuses on cultivating moral character and truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. The former psychic gave Shen Zhuan Falun, the core book of Falun Dafa.
“I was simply amazed and impressed by the explanation of the universe, life, and even modern technology,” Shen says. “I finally understood what is right and wrong, while many puzzles in my life were also solved.”
Though Shen had a new invaluable guide in his life, he found changing his ingrained ways of thinking and behaviours to be very challenging, especially while managing the stresses of running his company.
“I knew that the principles of Falun Dafa were good, I knew they are right, but at the beginning, it was difficult for me to control my temper and meet the high standard for a cultivator,” he says. “I still stared at the company’s performance and had a hot temper towards my employees.”
But one day, Shen’s left eye suddenly lost sight. He consulted an elderly Chinese medical doctor who also practiced Falun Dafa, who told him that his bad temper harmed his liver and if his attitude continued, Shen may even lose vision in the right eye.
But Shen’s troubles didn’t end there. In the forever-changing internet landscape, Shen’s small boutique firm couldn’t meet the needs of his number one client.
“I also felt that despite Nike’s trust for us, our performance didn’t seem to be qualified,” says Shen. Nike represented 70 percent of his revenue. “I decided to send a sincere email to Nike, telling them we would like to terminate our contract.”
With the lion’s share of his firm’s revenue gone, most businessmen would downsize and start laying off employees. But Shen believed deeply in his new spiritual teachings and decided to “think of others first,” or in this case, think of his 30 employees first.
Shen took enough money out of his home to be able to pay salaries until the end of the year. If they couldn’t persist, the company would close down.
On top of the financial difficulties, Shen’s company culture wasn’t harmonious, and he was having major conflicts with one of his directors. Shen realized it was time to start looking for internal reasons for his external problems.
After the director threatened Shen on many occasions to quit and didn’t show up to work for several days, Shen sat down with him. Afraid that they’d turn violent, the other employees cautiously watched as the owner and director sat down privately together.
Shen realized the director was upset because he wanted recognition for his work. He realized that only compassion could heal their relationship.
“I didn’t blame him at the beginning — I first recognized many of his good qualities,” Shen says. “I then kindly told him what he needed to improve. Although he didn’t agree with what I said, I didn’t quarrel with him nor force him to accept it. Our talk ended peacefully.”
Two days later, the director emailed Shen, admitted his insights were accurate, and said he’d improve in the future. Shen realized truth without kindness never worked, so he began to communicate with all of his employees with tolerance and compassion, and, consequently, changed the office’s atmosphere.
The employees also began to work even harder, as they were touched by Shen’s financial sacrifices on their behalf.
“We didn’t have Nike, but we now had business with Adidas and New Balance,” Shen says. “The director who had quarreled with me shot an outstanding advertisement for New Balance. Thinking of the 17 years I had been through, I burst into tears in front of the screen.”
By the end of the year, all of the financial losses from ending the contract with Nike had been made whole. And even more miracles came Shen’s way. His left eye started recovering from his retinal detachment and optic nerve atrophy. “I think it’s impossible from a modern medical point of view,” he says, believing that his diligent practice of Falun Dafa has been healing.
Today, Moulin Orange continues to thrive and has garnered many awards. Shen’s core focus now is strengthening his company culture. The business owner thinks the core principles of Falun Dafa — truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance — sometimes sound too etheric, so he relates them to his traditional heritage.
“In real life, the three words have actually been practiced throughout Chinese history,” he says. “Take ‘benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, honesty’ in Confucianism as an example. ‘Benevolence and righteousness’ are being thoughtful, tolerant and helpful for others. ‘Courtesy’ is mutual respect and being well-behaved. ‘Wisdom and honesty’ are always the foundation of doing business. When I talk about these virtues to our employees, they love them. When a company establishes such a culture, it will attract more and more people with the same ideals. Then the company grows and grows.”
Shen also believes the concepts of compassion and “thinking of others first” have been integral in the success of his company.
“What’s important is not forgetting your original intention,” he says. “Many of my company’s customers are international brands. I found they have the same common characteristic — all the brands were established to create good quality and beautiful things. Like Nike, it started from the coach’s care for his team members. The original intention of my company is out of the love of visual arts. We want to create beautiful things and bring enjoyment and joy to others.”
Shen believes meditation is the best way for entrepreneurs to achieve success professionally and personally, otherwise the stress is just too overwhelming. “The chaotic condition of running a business is like sand floating in a glass of water,” he says. “When you calm down and be tranquil, the sand will gradually deposit and the water will become clear again.”
Text by David Lee Photography by Ady Zhuang