Ling Valentine, Chinese owner of online lease and contract hire website, has been named Woman Entrepreneur of the Year" and top "Women in Retail for 2006", by One North East, Gateshead, according to a report on AutoWired.

However, Ling reportedly caused something of a stir at the awards ceremony.

The ceremony, organised by the Women Into the Network (WIN) and Durham Business School invited entries from female entrepreneurs from all over the region.

The judges considered that Ling's attributes of a strong financial performance, a product or store innovation, proven high customer service, as well as excellent brand values beat the competition.

Ling was reportedly in China and unable to personally accept the award, but nominated her Chinese employee, Lina Liang, to accept it on her behalf.

And that's where it gets interesting.

According to the report, Ling arranged a stunt to make a serious political point: "I planted my Chinese employee, Lina Liang, to work as an insignificant waitress in the Hilton hotel where she served food all night, kow-towing to the guests. The organisers and audience were amazed when she stepped on the stage to join the awards photo session in her waitress uniform among the ball-gowns and high-heels.

"It's about time someone made the point that Chinese people are not just waitresses and take-away owners and can compete with the best UK entrepreneurs," said Ling Valentine.

See also: 'Mad Chinese bird'

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