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“The responsibility of wealth is to help other people realize their dreams” With Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Being successful and having wealth isn’t a given right, it is a responsibility. I know people for example with 15 Ferraris, it’s a waste…


Being successful and having wealth isn’t a given right, it is a responsibility. I know people for example with 15 Ferraris, it’s a waste and rather selfish and I don’t think deep down they are very happy. If you are in the fortunate position to have money, share it. Not everything has to have a financial return on investment. Your soul needs a return on its investment too. So share your wealth and experience and use these wisely to support whatever cause you wish. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it should be something you feel connected with. But share, and try and help other people realize their dreams. That is the responsibility of the successful. And if you can do that, I think it generates personal happiness. And without that, what is the point of having a corporate life at all?


I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Devonshire-Ellis, the Chairman of Dezan Shira & Associates, one of China and Asia’s best known investment practices, Publisher of numerous titles under the Asia Briefing banner, and all-round philanthropist and patron of the arts.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always say a mixture of recklessness, naivety and adventure. China was just opening up when I began my business there, and no-one really knew how things would pan out. They were exciting times and I wanted to be part of this great country starting to open up. Of course it could have all gone wrong but it didn’t. And here we are nearly 30 years later. China is still there and so is my business and so am I. Now I’m not so reckless, hopefully less naïve but it’s still a great adventure!

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

Yes. With Dezan Shira as a practice advising foreign investors into China and Asia, we are branching out into China’s Belt & Road Initiative and how that is impacting on other nations throughout Eurasia and the EU. That’s a major, yet little understood issue. We are also publishing new business titles, including one I’m currently writing about China’s Belt & Road and the impact on the European Union, that’ll be out next year. On a personal note I am involved with financing a couple of classical and jazz music projects and European avant garde fashion design. So keeping busy and still being useful I hope. These rather different projects keep me intellectually stimulated and alert, and hopefully interesting as an individual.


None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people — great staff who have worked with us, great clients and many many friends along the way. But maybe I should thank our competitors, some of whom have not been kind to us. I won’t mention them, but they motivated us to do better than they did as a result. So, thanks to all the people who tried — and failed — to interfere with our business in a negative way and got us even more determined to succeed.

What do you think are the new untapped markets in China that may become the next “big thing”?

E-Commerce is already here and will evolve still further, and that taps into all kinds of new technologies that interface with production, logistics and transportation. With Blockchain, 5G and AI all on the horizon, China is leading the way in how products will be made, paid for, and delivered. That’s generalistic however it impacts on nearly all aspects of business and trade. China is a world leader in these areas.

What challenges does that new market face? How would you address it?

It’s about getting the economics and sciences right. Getting new technologies into the financial sweet spot where they can make sense of potential efficiencies. That requires great thinkers. It also requires a more humanistic approach. Global warming is a big deal, almost an opportunity for countries like China, Mongolia and Russia that will be able to open up their huge Northern areas, but how can you use the benefits that brings to those regions without completely trashing them? We’ve already heard serious warnings from the UN about global warming — science and commerce need to come together to look at viable solutions to get what we need but with the minimal environmental impact.

Can you share the top challenges of doing business in China and how you overcame them?

Marketing. Getting what was then a small consulting practice well known on a national basis. We didn’t have any money for advertising. So I made a free monthly magazine with articles about setting up in China, and taxes and so on, and printed those off from the photocopier, and delivered them to hotel business centres and popular bars around Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. Then printed a lot of stickers and stuck them in the backs of taxis and so on. What would now be called guerilla marketing. Within a year we went from close to zero to being a recognized brand amongst expats in China, and they were our target client base. In those days there weren’t so many hotels or bars, so we could cover the latent audience pretty well, maybe 200 venues across those three cities. Today it wouldn’t be possible, you’d need to print enough for 2000 venues and anyway nowadays people access such material online. But solving the problem of marketing ourselves on our tiny budget was a major step forward.

We keep hearing about the “Trade War”. What are your thoughts about it? Given the unknowns, how do you plan to pivot?

I think we’ll just keep on doing what we always do. We have the services, and we have the geographical spread now to absorb China impact. Several years ago we made the decision to expand out of China and into other markets like India, Vietnam and so on. At the time people thought we were nuts, but I wanted to lessen the impact of any China problems. Dezan Shira has survived SARS, two financial crisis, and numerous political difficulties in China, and the trade war is just another in a long line. It will have limited impact on our business, clients will adapt and come up with solutions to their problems. If they can’t do business in China we can service them throughout Asia instead. We dealt with the problems of hiccups in China trade years ago by making a deliberate decision to expand our reach out of China and therefore minimize our China risk.


Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ll choose two: never give up — if your heart and gut believe what you are doing is the right thing, then you’re probably right. Don’t get despondent when times get tough and just keep going. When you’re on the floor, the only way is up. Work the problem. Secondly, always hire people smarter than you are. Don’t become a professional professional, a constant Director or even Managing Director. Change, move up. And replace yourself with people who are better at doing your job than you are. Then one day you can step back and they’ve all got great careers and you’ve got your freedom, your own ultimate exit plan. If you can replace yourself in your own business and become an owner rather than an employee I think that’s a great achievement.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Being successful and having wealth isn’t a given right, it is a responsibility. I know people for example with 15 Ferraris, it’s a waste and rather selfish and I don’t think deep down they are very happy. If you are in the fortunate position to have money, share it. Not everything has to have a financial return on investment. Your soul needs a return on its investment too. So share your wealth and experience and use these wisely to support whatever cause you wish. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it should be something you feel connected with. But share, and try and help other people realize their dreams. That is the responsibility of the successful. And if you can do that, I think it generates personal happiness. And without that, what is the point of having a corporate life at all?

Originally published at medium.com

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