spent this past week smiling and clinking wine glasses with a multi-millionaire
from the town of GuangYan – roughly two hours north of the capital
particular boss is one of a breed of new rich that rule the "small"
towns and cities outside of the major hub cities such as Beijing,
Shanghai and, in the west, Chengdu. These men are building empires
in China's interior.
of them have certain characteristics that the big city folk have
picked up and like to use to ridicule the new bosses:
Bosses like to yell into their cell phones, wherever they are. They
roll five to ten deep, and all the employees are relatives. Big
Bosses drive the most expensive foreign cars, wear the most expensive
suits, announce investments to the world. They have a belt with
little pouches for keys, cell phones #1 and #2 and, if they are
real country, the beeper. And they carry a black bag under their
arm wherever they go."
common for a big boss to have a company in name, but a mafia-like
crew in reality. Mafia in the sense that these fellas roll two to
a car, thirteen cars deep, wear sunglasses, are married with girlfriend
and have really big wads of cash on hand at all time.
particular boss would reach into the requisite black leather bag
and just pull out cash. 10,000RMB (1200USD) for dinner, 5000RMB
for belts, another 4000RMB for dinner. Boss Sung lives around the
iron eating schedule of the Chinese – 8am breakfast, 12pm lunch
and 6pm dinner – and money. Everybody in China seems to be trying
to trick everybody else out of their money, so a big boss will usually
make a point of extolling the virtue of honesty and respect for
me for example, I make sure all my employees make the money."
it is important that all the people around the boss look good, eat
good and drive good. Any car more than two years old will get the
"yeah well, its allright" look from the boss.
from all the quirky little habits of the Chinese new rich, it must
be clearly stated that these men are extremely shrewd and insatiable.
current rage is real estate.
Sung was deeply engaged in negotiations with a the mayor of a town
just an hour east. The deal involves the development of 26 square
miles of farming villages and small hotels scattered about a lush
gorge fed by pure mountain spring water. The boss wants to build
a resort to lie astride the highway being built through the area.
spending a large sum of money feeding, entertaining and lodging
two separate entourages, Boss Sung returned to HQ with the dismal
news that the deal will be delayed indefinitely. The family moaned
and everybody gathered together – from the lowliest intern to the
right hand man – and went over the details with the Boss, trying
to find a way to patch the multi-million dollar deal together. After
roughly twenty mintues of discussion, the family collectively agreed
that, indeed, the deal was on hold.
took a breath. In that breath, Boss Sung murmured that one of the
spots that they took the mayor to on his tour of the Boss's hometown
looked a little underdeveloped. "Not only that, but I have the number
of the man in charge right here."
minutes later a trip to the capital was postponed while the family
prepared to discuss the development of this new area into a new
resort. Its a confusing contradiction: how quickly these bosses
can act on an idea, and the long drawn out period it takes for most
deals to be completed in China.
quick as these guys move on a local tip, they are a little slower
to interact with foreigners. Business styles are very different
and trust is difficult to build, no matter how many times one affirms
mutual good will over glasses of stiff baijiu. Boss Sung's only
encounter seems to be with that of a Canadian investor in real estate
about two years ago. The family guided the Canadian through the
maze of paper free of charge and the Canadian waved good-bye with
a fistfull of cash two years later.
Sung asked me what Americans think of the government. I said real
Americans have no use for a bad government and and consider an invisible
government the best. (Couldn't help myself ...)
Sung scoffed. "Yeah well, that shows what you Americans know."
super-charged capitalists like Sung, the government is hopefully
a partner and friend. A thorny government surrounded by a wall of
papers is Boss Sung's nightmare. Lord knows how much bosses spend
on politicians during the Spring Festival, when such gifts are traditionally
Guys are pretty much the same the world over, but what distingushes
Chinese Big Bosses fromt the rest of the worlds is that there are
so many of them and they move so quick. Every town with 200,000
people or more has a collection of big bosses. The guy that runs
utilities. The guy with all the prime property. The hotel guy.
bosses of one town know each other and work together, and it was
never made clearer to me the power of the hometown than at my first
dinner with Boss Sung and his people. Everybody was a native of
GuangYan. Sung has lived there for 20 years. Sung is therefore not
a native and never 100% "in."
towns outside of the capital are exploding: universities, housing
developments, huge parks and fancy hotels, highways, airports; basically
everything you would find in a major city. These bosses are responsible
little empires run by good ol boy networks are prosperous, vibrant
and completely subordinate to the government. Boss Sung's comment
on government was made a bit clearer when I realized that the deal
with the mayor had been delayed not because the mayor a town away
was holding it back, but because a whole collection of papers had
to be filled out and placed before the Man, in Beijing.