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From rocket-ship dirt biker to TV show inventor

AMERICAN entrepreneur Garrett Openshaw has been bubbling with business ideas since he was 17, and just one of them was launching the highly rated "China's Next Top Model." There's more to come. Sam Riley reports.

From arranging a skateboard jump of the Great Wall to finding China's next top model, American media entrepreneur Garrett Openshaw is always on the lookout for the next big idea.

Openshaw, vice president of MOJO Media Works, made his first television event in China in 2005. The company licenses and produces TV programs and related online media products.

His first foray into Chinese television was not the typical low-risk, small-scale local production.

Using his connections from the Los Angeles entertainment scene, Openshaw managed to get skateboarding icon Danny Way to jump the Great Wall of China on a skateboard.

"He had invented something called the 'mega ramp' and we set about making this happen. It was broadcast in a two-hour live event in China, which was unheard of at the time, and it was absolutely amazing how well it was received both here and in the US," says Openshaw.

The event was seen in 32 countries by an estimated 275 million people, says Openshaw.

After this first venture, Openshaw and his business partners decided to license foreign programs in China, which led to the company launching "China's Next Top Model."

Openshaw says they were the first to license a foreign TV format in China, with the MOJO itself producing the third season of the show.

The first season attracted almost 100,000 applicants from across China. For the last two seasons it has been one of the country's most popular shows.

But television is just the latest business venture for Openshaw, who has been developing business ideas since he was 17.

From a decorative wrought iron business to manufacturing scooters, Openshaw has always relied on his own entrepreneurial flare to make a buck.

He grew up in Mesa, Arizona, in the American southwest.

Despite being on the other side of the world, he was always conscious of China, as his father regularly traveled to Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland for work in the power plant industry.

"I always grew up with stories of China, my dad speaks Mandarin and Cantonese and because of that I always knew I would come here," he says.

After studying international business in college, he dropped out to work in his stepfather's air-conditioning manufacturing business.

He worked his way up from sweeping the floors to fine-tuning the manufacturing systems, and it was this interest in manufacturing that eventually led him to China.

During his time in the States, Openshaw also ran a used-car business and an automobile workshop that souped-up muscle cars, motorcycles and four-wheel drives.

It was during this time that he experienced what he describes as a life-changing moment.

He still remembers the exact date: November 18, 1997.

A keen dirt bike rider, Openshaw had made a bet with a fellow rider about who could get to the top of a big hill first. Driving what he described as his "rocket-ship dirt bike," Openshaw's bravado almost cost him his life when he broke his back after crashing his bike.

Initially Openshaw thought he was okay, and it wasn't until a few months later, when the pain became so bad he could not walk, that he discovered he had suffered a serious injury.

Experiencing pain every day was a turning point, "I wasn't the crazy, wild young guy anymore because I couldn't be, it really slowed me down," he says.

In 1999, Openshaw made his first visit to China and over the next three years ran a range of manufacturing businesses turning out everything from scooters and motorcycles to sporting goods.

A committed Christian, Openshaw returned to the States in 2002 and spent two years in the state of Oklahoma on a mission for his church, knocking on doors and spreading the word.

His entry to the entertainment industry came from his stepmother who ran several stage productions at Las Vegas' Aladdin Hotel.

"In my mission I was surrounded by people trying to do their best, and then a little while later I landed in 'Sin City'," he says.

In 2004 he moved a comedy show to Los Angeles.

To get buzz they invited celebrities and through these connections he met skateboarder Danny Way's manager and hatched a plan to take him to China.

Openshaw, the father of two, moved to Shanghai early last year and he says he has a number of new TV show ideas in the pipeline.

"I like being able to think of a thing and then do it," he says. "I don't think I have run my own businesses because I don't like working for someone else or anything like that. I think it's because I like being able to be creative and to look at a problem and solve it my way, which might be completely unconventional."

Garrett Openshaw

Nationality: USA

Age: 30

Profession: Media and entertainment


Description of self:

Relaxed, friendly, confident.

Favorite place: Munchies, a cool hamburger joint on Wuding Road, and Century Park in Pudong.

Strangest sight:

People actually eating stinky tofu and barbecued scorpions on a stick.

Worse experience: Having my wallet pick-pocketed by little kids and losing all my cash and credit cards while on a trip here from the US.

Motto for life: Don't expect to gain anything that you're not willing to give.

How to improve Shanghai:

Clean air.

Advice to newcomers:

Enjoy Shanghai for what it is - one of the most vibrant, dynamic and culturally diverse cities in the world. Don't try and make it into something else or compare it to "back home" or you will drive yourself crazy. And don't sweat the small stuff.


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