Mr. China : A Memoir

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-10-01
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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Mr. China tells the rollicking story of a young man who goes to China with the misguided notion that he will help bring the Chinese into the modern world, only to be schooled by the most resourceful and creative operators he would ever meet. Part memoir, part parable, Mr. China is one man's coming-of-age story where he learns to respect and admire the nation he sought to conquer.

Table of Contents

Map of China
Preface: Mr. China xiii
We Are Wanderers at the Ends of the Earth
A Journey of a Thousand Li Begins from Under One's Feet
If You Won't Go into the Tiger's Lair, How Can You Catch the Cubs?
We Tramped and Tramped Until Our Iron Shoes Were Broken
Three Vile Cobblers Can Beat the Wisest Sage
Wind in the Tower Warns of Storms in the Mountains
The Magistrate's Gates Open Toward the South
Crushed by the Weight of Mount Taishan
The Bottle Finally Bursts: Nineteen Thousand Catties Hanging by a Single Hair
The Siege of Jingzhou: Up in the Sky There Are Nine-Headed Birds
The Battle of Ningshan: The Mightiest Dragon Cannot Crush the Local Snake
The Iron Tree Blossoms
Postscript 251(10)
Author's Note 261


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.

Excerpted from Mr. China: A Memoir by Tim Clissold
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