Mr. China

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The idea of China has always exerted a pull on the adventurous type. There is a kind of entrepreneurial Westerner who just can't resist it: red flags, a billion bicycles, and the largest untapped market on earth. What more could they want? After the first few visits, they start to feel more in tune and experience the first stirrings of a fatal ambition: the secret hope of becoming the Mr. China of their time.

In the 1990s, China went through a miraculous transformation from a ...

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The idea of China has always exerted a pull on the adventurous type. There is a kind of entrepreneurial Westerner who just can't resist it: red flags, a billion bicycles, and the largest untapped market on earth. What more could they want? After the first few visits, they start to feel more in tune and experience the first stirrings of a fatal ambition: the secret hope of becoming the Mr. China of their time.

In the 1990s, China went through a miraculous transformation from a closed backwater to the workshop of the world. Many smart young men saw this transformation coming and mistook it for their destiny. Not a few rushed East to gain strategic footholds, plant their flags, and prosper. After all, the Chinese had numbers on their side: a seemingly endless population, a thirst for resources, and the tide of history. What they needed was Western knowledge and lots of capital. Or so it seemed ...

Mr. China tells the rollicking story of one man's encounter with the Chinese. Armed with hundreds of millions of dollars and a strong sense that he and his partners were — like missionaries of capitalism — descending into the industrial past to bring the Chinese into the modern world, Clissold got the education of a lifetime.

The ordinary Chinese workers, business owners, local bureaucrats, and party cadres Clissold encountered were some of the most committed, resourceful, and creative operators he would ever meet. They were happy to take the foreigner's money but resisted just about anything else. At every turn, the locals seemed one step ahead of Clissold's crew threatening to take the Westerners for all they were worth.

In the end, Mr. China isn't a tale of business or an expatriate's love for his adopted land. It's one man's coming-of-age story where he learns to respect and admire the nation he sought to conquer.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
You have to hand it to Tim Clissold: In the late '80s, this Cambridge University grad was so sure he could see China's capitalist revolution coming that he quit his accounting job to go to Beijing, learn Mandarin, and make his fortune helping naïve Westerners surmount China's Great Wall of cultural and bureaucratic idiosyncrasies. But as his humorous, colorful, self-effacing story reveals, showing cowboy capitalists how to lasso the Middle Kingdom is harder than it looks. Much harder.
Jonathan Yardley
This hugely entertaining book is the story of an ambitious young Brit (the author) who arrived in China in the late 1980s, fell in love with it and soon was seized by "the first stirrings of a fatal ambition: the secret hope of becoming the 'Mr. China' of [his] time, the zhongguo tong or 'Old China Hand' with the inside track in the Middle Kingdom."
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
A British businessman with a background in accounting and auditing, Clissold joined up with an entrepreneur in the early 1990s and set out to buy shares of Chinese firms and to work to make them more profitable. Within two years, Clissold's venture owned shares in 20 Chinese businesses, with 25,000 employees among them, but the story really centers on Clissold's encounters with the nation's "institutionalized confusion." Firing entrenched middle managers became a protracted process that led to factory riots and employees using company funds to set up competing businesses; the anticorruption bureau demanded cash bribes before opening investigations. Clissold's narrative is somewhat aimless, slipping from one misadventure (taking American fund managers to a condom factory) to the next, and there's a certain amount of too-easy humor derived from the exoticism of Chinese culture (e.g., the inevitable banquet where unusual body parts of rabbit and deer are served). Even in these passages, though, Clissold's fundamental respect for the Chinese culture is unmistakable, and the scenes where he leaves his office and interacts directly with the people can be quite vividly detailed. By the late '90s, millions of dollars poured into the companies yield disastrous results from an investment standpoint (and Clissold himself suffers a heart attack), but the Chinese economy as a whole hums ever more loudly. Crossover appeal of this title may be limited, but business readers are likely to be entertained. 25-city radio tour. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This charming and shrewdly informative book is more than just a "coming of age in China" memoir (though it is a good one). In the 1980s, Clissold, a graduate of England's Cambridge University, left his job in a major accounting firm to go to Beijing and learn Mandarin. He was thus on the front line when foreign investors came to China looking for business partners and on the firing line when there was a clash of expectations and unforeseen results. Chinese businessmen and officials did not defer to the foreigners but instead showed them why China led the world in technology, industry, and business-that is, before the last few unfortunate centuries. Clissold is a sharp-eyed but sympathetic observer and a storyteller of Chaucerian verve. His book is also a dramatic account of how China changed in the years after Mao's death in 1976, becoming the global economic power we see today. Highly recommended for libraries that want a fresh and readable account of this period.-Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Time magazine
“Present at the creation of China’s economic miracle, Clissold’s memoir is an instant classic. Sharply observed, funny as hell. Indispensible.”
“Lots of Western businessmen have China war stories, but only Tim Clissold has written . . . this funny book.”
“One would be hard-pressed to find a serious Western investor in China who isn’t aware of Clissold’s eye-opening account.”
USA Today
“An adventure tale. Clissold is a wonderful and compassionate narrator (with) a deep respect for the culture, language, and history.”
Washington Post
“Hugely entertaining…Clissold loves China…but he also views it with clarity and no small amount of humor.”
“Hard to put down... with passionate characters and vivid landscapes. Clissold excels at analyzing a strange business culture....”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9789870405870
  • Publisher: Santillana USA Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 11/28/2006
  • Language: Spanish
  • Edition description: Spanish Language
  • Pages: 340
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Tim Clissold has been working in China for seventeen years and has traveled to almost every part of the country. He lives in Beijing with his wife and four children.

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First Chapter

Mr. China
A Memoir

Chapter One

We Are Wanderers at the Ends of the Earth;
But to Meet Each Other Here,
Why Must We Have Met Before?

A.D. 65O-9O

For anyone whose mood is affected by the weather, Hong Kong in October is heaven. There's a month of perfect blue skies with a bite in the air and a sharpness in the light that accentuates the dense green on the Peak against the brilliant blue of the harbor. So with my spirits buoyed up in the sunshine, I cut through the botanical gardens on my way toward Admiralty. A colleague in Shanghai had set up my meeting and I had no particular expectations. There was still plenty of time, so I stopped to admire the orchids for a while.

I took the elevator to the eighteenth floor and waited. There was silence apart from the slightest breath of the air-conditioning. The deep red thick-pile carpet absorbed all traces of footsteps. Terra-cotta figurines stood in carefully backlit alcoves; there were lacquer vases with twigs of twisted hawthorn and one or two high-backed Chinese antique sandalwood chairs. The faintest scent of pollen drifted across from the huge white lilies in the tall glass vase on the table. And the silence. As I waited on the black leather couch, I couldn't help feeling that it was like so many other offices in these tall glass towers where nothing ever seemed to happen. Maybe I was about to meet another wealthy U.S. business executive using the boom in Hong Kong as a cover for an early retirement away from the wife back home. Or maybe not. There was more style to this place than the average.

I was shown into an office behind a frosted-glass wall. There were matching leather sofas, a full-length map of China on the wall, and a spectacular view of the harbor. Behind the vast black polished desk there were shelves lined with "tombstones," those little Plexiglas blocks that investment bankers keep as trophies for their deals, with miniature copies of the public announcement of the latest buyout or merger inside. A framed copy of the front page of the New York Times hung on the wall. It reported comments about the Black Monday crash from prominent players on Wall Street. There were two photographs on the front page: one was of Rockefeller, the other was of Pat.

"How y'doing?"

An enormous figure strode into the room, squeezed my hand, and gestured toward the low table near the windows. Tanned and relaxed, he looked like he was in his midforties. Difficult to tell: he was fit, I thought, that was for sure, powerfully built, a real bruiser, in fact: the only clue to his age came from the slightest frost at the temples. After the small talk and the exchange of business cards, he leaned back in the chair, threw his arm over the back, and with one foot on the edge of the glass coffee table, started out on his story.

"Let me give you a bit of background and go through what I'm doing out here," he said.

The story that unfolded over the next hour instantly seized my attention. The son of a steelworker from Pittsburgh, Pat had been on Wall Street for twenty years. His athletic appearance must have come from his passion for American football in earlier years and his conversation was still laced with references to the sport that I couldn't always follow. He told me that he had majored in American history at Yale, and after graduating in the early 1970s, he joined one of the top investment houses on Wall Street. "All the smart guys go into investment banking," he said, "that's where all the money is." After a few years at Goldman, he went to study for his MBA at Harvard Business School and graduated with high distinction.

When he went back to Wall Street, he joined one of the midtier investment banks that looked as if it was on the way up. He said that joining a midtier bank had helped him learn the ropes and stand on his own two feet. "At the top-tier banks, you'd just be part of a machine and rely on the brand name rather than your wits to win the deal." It seemed as though it had been a smart move; the more conservative establishment banks might have been tough going for someone with his background. He worked on M&A at the bank.

"Mergers and acquisitions," he said, "taking smart ideas to the CEO, persuading him to buy up another business, and then raising the capital to do it."

He was good at it and ended up running the whole investment banking division. In his first year as head of investment banking, revenues doubled, and by the end of the great bull run of the 1980s, Pat had a seat on the board and had collected his millions on the way up. "Yeah," he said with a huge laugh, "I had the jag, an apartment on Park, and houses upstate, just like all the other buffoons on Wall Street."

By that time, the bank was poised for further growth but didn't have the money to compete with the real Wall Street heavy hitters: it needed a big capital infusion to take it to the next level. Pat had led the protracted and complex negotiations with a big Japanese investment house to recapitalize the business. He eventually signed the deal that brought nearly three hundred million into the bank to fund the next level of growth. He was a hero but it wasn't enough. He'd climbed to the top of the ladder and he was looking for something new.

"You know, Wall Street goes in phases," he continued ...

Mr. China
A Memoir
. Copyright © by Tim Clissold. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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