Misconceptions and lessons about Chinese and Jewish entrepreneurs
BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET - Wilson Lee Flores (The Philippine Star) - August 2, 2015 - 10:00am

In this column, I would like to discuss several misconceptions about the ethnic Chinese community in the Philippines, and Chinese and Jewish entrepreneurs in particular.

• So-called Chinese and Jewish “economic control” is a misconception.

For centuries, one of the favorite myths or oversimplifications about the ethnic Chinese minority in Asia and the Jewish minorities in America and Europe is the allegation that they “control the economy.”  Worse, there have been claims that the Jews “control” the US media. There are even wild statistical claims without basis in research and actual fact.

A Jewish activist group in the US called the Anti Defamation League documented various anti-Semitic canards concerning Jews and banking, including the myth that “world banking is dominated by the Rothschild family,” that “Jews control Wall Street,” that Jews supposedly control the United States Federal Reserve.

Activist Tim Wise once wrote to refute the racist rumor on alleged Jewish control, asking how come there are so many other non-Jewish and white-dominated industries like the tobacco industry and the automobile industry. He wrote: “Is their race, religion or ethnic culture relevant to their misdeeds? If not, why is it suddenly relevant when the executives in question are Jewish?”

The word “control” is in itself already dead wrong, insidious and biased, because that word is as preposterous as a claim that iPhone users or Rolex watch wearers control banking, or that “Ateneans control the Philippine government,” etc.

Rugged individualism is both a strength and a weakness.

The word “control” is difficult to apply to us ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs, especially if people understand the psyche and nature of ethnic Chinese as the most individualistic people. In particular, Chinese entrepreneurs are so competitive. In contrast to the Japanese, they are racially very cohesive, also psychologically team-oriented and obedient.

The worst and most intense competitor of an ethnic Chinese entrepreneur is a fellow Chinese, that’s why a lot of us SME entrepreneurs are honestly wary of hiring Chinese employees because they usually end up as your future competitors!  

For example, Chinese immigrant and pre-war Chinese Chamber of Commerce cofounder Dr. Jose Tee Han Kee of the Teehankee clan used to own Farmacia Central in Binondo, Manila, which was the biggest drugstore enterprise then. One of his employees was a young clerk named Mariano Que, who went on to become the founder of the Mercury Drugstore chain.

Lucio Tan of Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco told me he was a high school student when he started part-time work at the Bataan Cigar & Cigarette Factory and his boss then, the late Mr. So Lee Kuy, gave him a monthly salary of P50 a month.

Another example is the low-key, self-made snack food tycoon William Lim of WL Foods; he used to be an ordinary employee of the factory producing Besuto prawn crackers and his job was a machine technician. Now that he is successful in the same industry, he has one honorable and unique policy: never enter into the prawn-cracker line because that’s the business of his former boss.

The idea of Chinese control is a myth. The reality is often the exact opposite: the reason the ethnic Chinese excel in business is intense, endless competition. It is also a strength. Babying others won’t make you a rugged entrepreneur. But sometimes I also consider it a weakness, since overly strong individualism overrides the need for unity and bigger scale, with intense rivalry overpowering the need for team effort.

Examples of this Chinese individualism is the natural tendency of family businesses to fracture the moment the entrepreneurial founder dies: just look at the Pioneer Insurance business. The death of founder Chan Toh gave rise to an eventual parting of his younger brothers, and the next generation of first cousins came up with their own rival Prudential Guarantee and Seaboard Eastern insurance firms. There are so many other examples I could write 10 columns on it. 

The anti-foreign investment mindset is backwards in this era of globalization.

Another point of contention is that Spanish mestizo tycoons stash away wealth in their ancestral homeland, Spain, and that ethnic Chinese tycoons also do so in China. I am not an apologist for or a defender of the tycoons, but that is very unfair and not grounded in fact, because whatever mansions, resorts or properties the Spanish tycoons own in Spain are only a small fraction of their multibillion-dollar enterprises in the Philippines. That claim is pure hyperbole and malicious in its intent to sow hatred; it is not grounded in reality. 

In the same way, whatever business projects our ethnic Chinese tycoons have in China are only a small fraction of all their huge and long-term investments to support the Philippine economy, not counting the scale of their philanthropy here for Philippine social progress. Therefore, to compare and raise this non-issue is unfair, insidious, racist and out of proportion to reality. 

In fact, my complaint is our local tycoons and SME entrepreneurs are so insular and timid compared to our Asean peers in making bold foreign investments in China and Asean! Just look at Malaysia’s Shangri-La hotel chain, Indonesia’s Kopiko coffee, Singapore’s SingTel, and Thailand’s Red Bull. They’re not only here and all over China but inexorably going global!

A Swiss banker also explained to me that in China, foreign and local investors get the benefit of huge loans or credit lines from international banks and Chinese banks for their investments there.

Also, Japanese firms like Uniqlo or Toyota, Taiwanese firms like Acer and South Korean giants like Samsung have far bigger multibillion-dollar investments all over China in order to get a foothold in the world’s second biggest economy and potentially the largest market. Those investments are larger than what Chinese companies have invested in Japan, Taiwan or South Korea; does that reality make the Japanese tycoons of Uniqlo or Toyota love China more than Japan, or the bosses of Samsung love China more than South Korea?

Why are there a lot of Korean, Taiwanese, European, American, Japanese and Asean investments in China — is it because they love China more than their home countries? It’s because all the world’s best businesspeople want their firms and countries to have a strategic presence in the world’s second biggest economy, which is on its way to becoming the biggest as well as wealthiest market. It has nothing to do with politics. In fact, what they’re doing as multinationals for Germany or South Korea is patriotic for their nations in the long-term in this era of globalization and internationalization.

Why are South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, the Netherlands, Germany and even our neighbor Singapore becoming true economic powers in the 21st century? It’s because they have gutsy entrepreneurs and bold companies that are globally competitive and becoming multinationals.

* * *

Thanks for your feedback! E-mail willsoonflourish@gmail.com or follow WilsonLeeFlores on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and http://willsoonflourish.blogspot.com/.

A JEWISH A SWISS ACER AND SOUTH KOREAN ACIRC CHINA CHINESE CHINESE AND JEWISH CONTROL ETHNIC SOUTH KOREA STRONG
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