Business Republic of China
Tales from the front line of China’s new revolution
by Jack Leblanc
Blacksmith Books, 248 pages, HK$118 / US$14.95
What do an academically oriented young man from
Jack Leblanc’s book
There are two threads that run through Leblanc’s book. One is very intentional and in the forefront, and that is the vast cultural and practical differences that exist between business in
Of course it never hurts to have both of these, but there is enough variety in the stories Leblanc tells that in most cases the dominance of one over the other does come out. Mr. Li, the motorcycle magnate, presumably the same person that Ted Koppel interviewed in The People's Republic of Capitalism, stands out as superbly capable. So does Mr. Zhang, the widget maker, who manages to buy the brand of the German make previously dominant in his market. On the other side, Ms. Luan, the party secretary turned public relations head mentioned above, and Smile, who got Leblanc into all of this in the first place demonstrate that connections can be enough.
The book itself is written up almost as a series of informal case studies. While the writing is not quite what could be called literary, several of the cases could belong to the mystery genre and I enjoyed greatly watching the cases unfold. Leblanc is called in to troubleshoot a number of joint ventures that have not worked out as expected. He typically starts by trying to get to know the management team on the Chinese half of the joint venture. He seems to be surprisingly successful in doing this, so I suspect he understates his own personal charm in the telling of his stories. Whether from frank conversation, or just checking to see how the numbers add up, he uncovers some interesting activities. The great delight is just how varied these activities are. I won’t spoil the endings by reveling them here, but the pipe factory, and a bottled water factory are especially interesting.
Still, my favorite chapter was actually the first, in which Leblanc goes to
His drift into business is unplanned, and does not seem particularly well executed. But that is the beauty of the story. Leblanc, like most Chinese at the time, did not really know what made sense, and just hoped for a good outcome. In this case he got one, making a big sale of European glass for a new hotel. From all appearances the result was largely luck, but may have been related to Leblanc’s own likability. Either because he did not have a real preconceptions of business, or because of a natural empathy, Leblanc learned early on to simply go along with the way people around him did things. That is an important lesson.
Not all of the mysteries facing a person doing business in
My biggest complaint about the book is the continual reference to those from outside
All in all, I would have to say this book is both entertaining, and informative. It is not a complete guide to doing business in