In the boardroom I was happy to find out that I wouldn’t have to go far to smoke, as the investor was a chain smoking 20-something from Inner Mongolia. His ashtray was overflowing onto the desk, so it seemed appropriate to spark up and offer him a cigarette. We’d learn soon enough that his own cigarettes cost over 100 RMB ($15) a pack, and he seemed determined to set fire to his billions of dollars as fast as he possibly could.
We squeezed into our low slung chairs (all chairs in China are made for people with no legs) they are so close to the floor, that the only option for me is to perch on the edge of the seat and tuck my legs back at 45 degrees. We’ve worked with the two folks running this place for a while now, and we like them even if we’re not sure they’re up to the task of running a major German brand effectively. So introductions are pleasant enough and even though it’s slightly worrying that the investor doesn’t speak a word of English – he seems happy that we’re here.
We’re told that they’ve already found us an apartment so we won’t need a hotel, our hearts sink – this pair of plonkers think that my friend and I are going to live together long-term. We’re good mates and all, but I think we’d end up going mad without our personal space. While my chum tries to explain, that this will be a long-term arrangement over our dead bodies, I sneak off to the loo.
The bathroom is huge and has a full bath and shower suite in the corner. Thankfully all I need to do is relieve my cramping bowels (airline food and espresso aren’t the best combination for me). This is where I make my first mistake; I forget that in Beijing you cannot put toilet paper in the toilet. It should be placed in the bin by the side. I am forcibly reminded of this when I flush the loo and it begins to overflow instead of emptying. So my first move in my possible new employer’s office is to cover the bathroom in poo.
The good news is – I am an executive and won’t be sorting it out. This task falls to the hapless “Emily” (all Chinese people take an English name), who is a school teacher from the boss’s village that he’s brought on board as the finance manager (this is a regular occurrence – utterly unqualified people in “senior” positions based on relationships from the past). But in reality her job is to sort out the things that nobody else wants to do. I suspect she’ll never forgive me.
Thoroughly embarrassed I return to the board room where we are to be introduced to the general manager that was hired 6 months ago, but we’ve only met once before for 5 minutes. I’ll be honest we thought he was a sneaky little rodent on first meeting, and it doesn’t take long to confirm our assessment. It is also clear that in 6 months (on what for China is a megabucks salary) he’s done nothing except turn his CV into a PowerPoint presentation. He goes on to bore us to death for 2 hours showing us this presentation.
When he finishes he stands as if waiting for applause. He really should have just got the hell out of there instead. Because I’m in the room and I’m famous for my lack of tolerance for idiots, even idiots who will theoretically be my boss one day. I ask him if he has anything relevant to show us, as we know he’s the general manager – but would like to understand the strategy he’s been working on for 6 months.
The room goes silent – I have committed the faux pas of not respecting Chinese face culture, and I have given him no room to talk his way out of the fact he’s done nothing for 6 months. He says he had a staffing plan in the presentation, I inform him that; “Hire 200 staff, so I can manage 50 more people than in my last company” is not a plan it’s an act of fantasy for a tiny startup that already seems to have 30 more staff than it needs.
I ask him if he’s prepared a sales forecast, a marketing plan, looked at anything that might be at all relevant in regards to getting the vehicles into China, that sort of thing. One of our 2 managers decides to close the book on this at this point – but pointedly asks me to start compiling a list of what actually needs to be done.
My business partner then gets invited to go on a tour of potential sites for their first retail presence and first service center. I get to stay in the office developing a sales forecast that meets the requirements of their license awarded by the German company. It’s not even lunch time on the first day of the week and I’m already convinced that these guys couldn’t organize a “get drunk in a brewery with unlimited free beer” event.
I’ll be back in Beijing tomorrow.