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Boss, give me face

Zafar Anjum | Aug. 25, 2008
It turns out that this phrase carries a great weight in the Chinese business circles.

This being the Olympic season (just concluded), everybody is writing about China. Everyone has a tale to tell about the Middle Kingdom, especially those who have visited that country in recent years. The stories range from Chinas curious delicacies to the problem of language (English is not widely spoken in China) that outsiders face.

My story, which is not firsthand and which comes from a friend who has just returned from Shanghai, is about loyalty.

Myths take birth when technology meets the exotic. The spread of internet even in the far and wide corners of the world, more so in mysterious China, seems akin to the introduction of the railroad in the Wild West about two hundred years ago. Forgive me if the metaphor does not work but if you thought it was brilliant, let me admit that actually I was watching 3.10 to Yuma last night. But I will take the compliment and doff my hat to you.

Globalisation does curious things but we dont even notice it anymore. Thats why my Indian friend working in China for an American advertising firm wont raise any eyebrows. According to him, he recently returned from the frontier (sorry, Shanghai) because business there is drying up (another sign of the sad state of the world economy). Four of his five colleagues (from the rich western countries) resigned when they were offered to relocate to a smaller Chinese city, along with a pay cut. But we digress.

The story of loyalty that he narrated to me happened during a business meet. It involves three principal characters: an ad firm (where my friend worked), a Chinese businessman and a fixer. But first about the fixer.

In China, there are a lot of business fixers, the go-betweens that bring two parties together, people who make business happen between the entrée and the dessert. These fixers play a great role in lubricating and facilitating business deals in China that otherwise might not happen at all. Though they earn commissions from both parties, they are respected by businesses. Personally, these fixers pay a lot of emphasis on relationships because their business is based on trusta treacherous territory that often brings the best and the worst in a man. But more on that later.

During one business meeting involving a multi-million dollar deal, a Chinese client was stuck up, wanting more discounts on the deal than was being offered by the ad firm. All that the ad firm could offer was already on the tableany more discounts beyond that did not make the deal at all sensible for the ad company.

Seeing that the meeting was not going anywhere, the ad firms boss told the fixer that the meeting was going to be a dud, a disaster. At that point, the fixer turned to the Chinese tycoon and told him something in Chinese. The businessman considered for a moment what the fixer had just told him. Then he made the deal on the exact discounts that the ad firm was willing to offer. No more haggling. It was a done deal. Everybody went home with a song on their lips.


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