When I started my entrepreneurial career after leaving Daimler China in 2002 I among others had a consulting company that advised foreign companies on doing business in China. One of our competitors was Dezan Shira and I admired the company for the way they seemed to be growing and for the political connections that its founder Chris Devonshire-Ellis seemed to have. I never met him, but at that time he was for me the personification of a successful foreign entrepreneur in China.
Because I moved my business activities from consulting to new media I did not follow Dezan Shira much, but occasionally I picked up their China Briefing magazine in a bar. Each time I saw it I had to laugh a bit, seeing Chris in it on many pictures with high-level China politicians or shaking hands with new clients. A bit too much to my liking, but of course you have to build a brand and showing off your connections and clients is a good way to attract customers. People criticized him for that, but I know from personal experience that everybody who steps into the spotlight will get negative comments. You just have to live with it and move on.
But this morning I read an article on ChinaLawBlog on Chris that changed my perception of him quite a bit. What happened? Chris did an interview with the Chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission and put it on the China Briefing site. In the interview Mr. Liu Mingkang among others talks about the RMB exchange rate, saying that it may weaken against the USD to around RMB 6.9-7.0. Because of this news the RMB/USD moved. Great for Chris to get such a scoop, except for the fact that the article seems to be completely fabricated! This is what the website of the China Banking Regulatory Commission showed this morning:
For me it was hard to believe at first that someone would do that, until I followed some links to among others several articles on FOARP about Chris. That blog claims among others that Chris lied about his qualifications and that he threatens bloggers such as Wang Jian Shuo with law suits if he does not remove negative comments about him. A tweet by Humanaught about the fact that Dezan Shira’s wikipedia page was removed because of ‘blatant advertising’ got a follow up by Chris threatening Humanaught. By the way, also Chris’ own Wikipedia page was removed because the article “does not indicate the importance or significance of the subject“. There is a whole discussion about him on Twitter now, he even has his own hash tag #cde (go to search.twitter.com and search for #cde to read the tweets).
Does Chris not realize that it’s better to sit out the storm instead of immediately overreacting? If you Google him now there are a lot of negative results about him that he could have easily avoided. The fake interview will probably make this even worse, which is neither good for him nor for his company and all the staff that he employs. If I were him I would just sit still for a while, assuming he does not get into legal or government trouble because of the fabricated quotes. I assume he learned a lesson, but if his lawyers start calling me after this blog post I will know that is not the case.
Update (Feb. 23, 2009): Chris Devonshire-Ellis resigned all his positions today.