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Oregon grad grows with a new start-up

A former economics grad brings Oregon’s greenery—and a Duck’s sense of adventure—to China

Barely two years out of college, Charlie Campbell has already had experiences most soon-to-be-graduates only dream about: Forming a Silicon Valley startup with more than $1 million in sales volume its first year. Helping to found a business with international connections. A chance to be a market leader in not just one, but two, different industries.

Charlie and his partner founded Buckete—what many consider to be the first consumer-to-business (C2B) marketplace in the world, helping consumers join forces to negotiate better prices on everything from pianos to strollers to electronics.

Although the start-up was successful, the two partners parted ways after about a year. But Charlie’s thirst for forging new paths wasn’t quenched. “Ducks are taught to walk to their own beat,” he says. “Silicon Valley taught me invaluable lessons in negotiations, networking, and navigating team issues.”

In December 2013, Charlie joined Haining Oregon Nursery Technologies Co. Ltd. (HONT) as the firm’s general manager. The company exports premium quality trees from Oregon to China. In its first year, HONT exported 557,000 trees from Oregon, transplanting them in a massive commercial nursery in Haining, China. Charlie manages everything from day-to-day operations to forming strategic relationships. Beginning with a team of just four people in February, he expanded the team to more than 150 by March and accomplished the record-breaking achievement of potting all 557,000 trees in six weeks.

In 2015, HONT plans to expand its facility to upwards of 150 acres of land for planting trees, in addition to their current 50 acre site. The company currently has between 40-180 field laborers depending on the season.

Charlie credits his knowledge of Mandarin and completing a six-month internship in China for landing his current gig. “My real interview came back in 2011 when John Ramig, founder and President of Global Trade Advisors (GTA), offered me an internship in China. Bruce Blonigen and William Harbaugh played a huge role in allowing me to follow my dreams. They supported me taking a term off and helped me graduate early to pursue the startup company,” he says.

Also, he believes that his economics training has given him a big advantage. “The Econ department taught me how to pragmatically look at and break down problems. Econometrics also turned out to be an invaluable tool. Data is all around us and easy to get—the challenge is pulling meaningful results from the data,” he says.

“I’d also say being courageous and in some cases fearless is irreplaceable,” Charlie continues. “People management is always going to be tough—multiply this by managing in a second language and being 24 years old in a culture that highly respects experience and age… it can be challenging.”

He encourages students like him to figure out who they want to be. “If you approach every opportunity with a fanatical, 150% attitude, the right opportunities will find you. The only way to build a reputation is through putting out amazing work.”

Charlie is proud of the work HONT has done to bring a little of Oregon’s scenic beauty to the Chinese landscape. “My hope is 20 years from now, when I come back to China, I’ll see Oregon trees growing. Then I’ll know our team and company were successful.”