Business Republic of China: Tales From the Front Line of China’s New Revolution
by Jack Leblanc; Blacksmith Books; US$14.95
At first glance, Jack Leblanc’s Business Republic of China threatens to be just another China business book. The unimaginative title, the stylized introductory paragraph and the “executive’s takeaway” bullet points that top and tail each chapter… Haven’t we seen this before?
The shelves of airport bookshops are littered with similarly themed volumes, all promising to guide the reader through the jungle that is China’s business environment and provide insights into how local people think. The chaff greatly outweighs the wheat.
Business Republic of China, however, does deliver.
Like many businessmen-turned-writers, Leblanc’s prose reads awkwardly at times, but once he gets into full flow he is propelled forward by the strength of his stories. And this is a man with some cracking stories to tell.
Trained as a nuclear physicist in Belgium, Leblanc’s fascination with China first brought him to the country in 1989. He became a teacher in Chongqing before cutting his teeth selling European glass to real estate developers.
In stumbling into this deal he happened upon a new career path and has since assisted many foreign firms in their China endeavors. Business Republic of China is based on these experiences.
Leblanc has dabbled in everything from IP-infringing motorcycles to doomed dotcom ventures. Many of the stories begin ordinarily enough: A dispute emerges between a foreign firm and its Chinese joint venture partner, and Leblanc and his colleagues are called in to make sense of the financial, administrative and, in many cases, ethical chaos.
From there, things tend to take a turn for the bizarre – and not just because of the baijiu Leblanc consumes to oil the wheels of commerce.
In one instance, a manufacturer seeking Chinese investment invites a group of executives to their European headquarters and greets them in the car park under the shadow of a Republic of Taiwan flag. In another, the Chinese joint venture partner of an Italian mineral water producer turns out to be using the operation as the front for a CD and DVD counterfeiting enterprise.
But there is more to this book than humor. While other similar works can come across as either too academic or too broad and macro-focused, Business Republic of China is rich in practical detail. Leblanc’s experiences make for instructive reading for any foreign executive doing business in China.