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Say It Right Series

But We Use Accountants

Posted by hekaiwen February 23, 2009 in the Group General Discussion.

Tags: chinese business, chinese culture, business with chinese, china and business,

But We Use Accountants

One more example, one more story, a real tear-jerker as my mother would say. I had lots of help when I started my first Taiwan business, Westerners wanting a job and Chinese wanting to invest. This is a story of the help I received from two of my good Chinese friends-cum-investors.

I met Michael soon after I’d arrived, first as an hourly English instructor than as a friend and employee in his business, a fair-sized (150 employees, 8 lawyers) law firm. My job? I was the ‘white monkey,’ ensuing that all letters and faxes to Western clients and groups were in readable English. (‘White monkey’ is how many of we no-expat-package China hands got our start.) I spent many enjoyable afternoons discussing politics with Michael instead of working (which didn’t impress my immediate manager, who made me work unpaid overtime till my work was done each day: another story).

I met David about six months before I started the business, again as an instructor then as his export firm’s white money and soon as his friend. Whereas Michael was from a wealthy family David was self-made, and made well. Both were rich but David was … well, he and his family lived in their own, brand-new 6-story building in downtown Taipei. Rich.

Both Michael and David wanted to invest in my new company. Wonderful. When it came time to start the official registration process I went to Michael and asked if his firm could help me do the legal startup work. No problem. In my next conversation with David I told him this good news, that how lucky I was/we were to have a lawyer as investor. Part of a longer discussion, I never really paid any attention to David’s reaction.

Three months passed. Frustrating months. It was almost as if the junior lawyer Michael had assigned me didn’t know how to do such a simple job as register a company: he made mistakes, filed late, called me for ‘rush’ signatures on documents. Nothing went smoothly. During these months I dropped by David’s once a week or so, no longer as an employee but as a friend/business partner. We’d go to his private office, he’d pour us a scotch and I’d tell him about the latest legal frustration. He wouldn’t say much about it; instead would just pour me another drink. After about two months I started to get a little frantic because, as I explained to both Michael and David (and anyone who’d listen) we were losing out on contracts because we had no business license, clients were choosing competitors, I could not hire the key staff I wanted. As I explained, the delay was costing them their money.

One day Michael joined his junior lawyer and myself in our meeting and, big smile, handed me the business licenses, Taiwan and Taipei city. We could now make money! My first stop was David’s. “We have the license David; we can finally start real work,” I exclaimed as he reached past the normal bottles and pulled out some good whiskey, Blue label. As we sat sipping I just had to comment on the process.

“David, I can’t believe how long it takes to start a business in Taiwan. Three months!”

“But Greg it normally takes only 3-4 weeks to start a business in Taiwan.”

“Huh? Then why did ours take three months?”

“Because we normally use an accountant to start a business in Taiwan, not a lawyer.”

It took every gram of self-control I had not to throw David from the 6th story window. Not to throw my drink, glass and chair at him. I was more than angry! David had sat and watched me make a mistake for month after month and had not said anything. Somehow I was able to control myself, at least enough to ask him, “But why didn’t you tell me? His answer? “I tried to Greg, but you didn’t listen.” Huh? Draining my glass I went home.

I trusted David; if he said he had tried to tell me then he had, but when? Where? How? I went over our three-months-earlier, set-up-the-business conversations the best I could. I remembered telling him about Michael my lawyer friend who also wanted to invest, and yes, me telling him that this was so convenient as I now wouldn’t have to find a lawyer to help set up the business, that I/we could use one from Michael’s firm. Inside the group, just as the Chinese like. What did he say then?

Aha. There it was. I remembered David saying something close to, “Well Greg, we could use an accountant to start the business too,” to which I probably answered (without thinking, which was normal those days) something like “Yeah, I guess we could. But I already have a lawyer (so we don’t need an accountant).”

And there it was, David used Chinese style to ‘tell’ me to use an accountant, not a lawyer, but I listened with my English ears thus totally missed his message. From David’s point of view I dismissed his advice totally, ignored it. He never offered any more advice on that subject, just calmly poured the whiskey and listened to my frustrations, frustrations that were costing him money!  while we drank his whiskey. and poured  and  (or many others come to think of it). ing it actually,  as I  and me, From

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