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- Publié sur Amazon.com
The title of this book, MR. CHINA, refers to the notion in the early 1990's that many Westerner businessmen wanted to be the first to get inside China's nascent boom, to become a "master of the universe" with respect to the People's Republic. While the winner is ostensibly the author's mysterious business partner, known only as Pat, the author lays his own claim to that award. By the end of this book, however, it's quite clear that no Westerner could ever be "Mr. China," and that those who chased earliest and hardest missed out almost completely on the real blossoming of mainland China's relationship with Western business. The author's near miss bicycling through a dark tunnel, intended as a metaphor about the emerging China, seems far more apt as a metaphor for his own decade of hopeless running in place.
In MR. CHINA, Tim Clissold tells a remarkable story of some of the first Western business forays into China during the 1990's. The model seemed simple enough - bring Wall Street to the People's Republic by raising huge sums of capital in an investment fund, trade that capital for majority shares in going businesses that seemed promising, infuse them with new technology and management practices, then buy up weaker competitors and consolidate them into massive, unbeatable players in the domestic and export markets. Of course, it was all far easier on paper than it was in reality, and that is the crux of Mr. Clissold's story.
By any measure, Clissold's tale is a businessperson's nightmare, a sort of Wall Street meets the Wild, Wild East. Politics infects every transaction, rules and contracts are broken as fast as they are made and signed, paperwork is a mess, accounting principles are nonexistent, money disappears or moves from one bank account to another to hide it, local managers lie, embezzle, or compete against their own employer, and everyone works hardest when they are busy lining their own pockets. Attempts to fire managers spark massive lawsuits, beatings, and even riots. Clissold spends nearly all his time putting out fires, holding off his investment fund managers, arguing with Chinese managers he has fired, and pleading his case to judges, government officials, and Party representatives. The harder he works, the more the fund's companies fail until his own health suffers.
Tim Clissold tells his story in a surprisingly matter-of-fact tone; he deserves to be far angrier and more cynical. He writes in an entertaining and engaging style, mixing a sort of detached amusement about events with some interesting cultural background. His Chinese managers and officials come across a bit too stereotyped and some of his background is clichéd, but those shortcomings are far outweighed by his outrageous exploits. The only false note occurs in the final two paragraphs of the book when the author attempts - badly and unnecessarily - to soften his message and rationalize the dishonest and outlandish behaviors he has spent the previous 248 pages describing.
While Western companies have almost universally eschewed the joint venture approach in China, MR. CHINA nevertheless offers valuable insights about doing business on the mainland. From my own three or four years' observation living in China, I can say that much of Clissold's cautionary advice applies today. Agreements and contracts are still more symbolic than enforceable, adhered to only if and when it suits Chinese interests. I recommend this book highly for both its entertainment value as well as its lessons learned.