As economic connections between the United States and China continue to advance, there are important roles being played by bankers, lawyers, accountants, investors and consultants many of them based in Los Angeles. Below are among the bigger names, though the list is by no means exhaustive.
Kate Berry and Laurence Darmiento
Donald W. Tang
Vice Chairman, West Coast Regional Director
Bear Stearns & Co.
At only 41, Tang has ascended to the top levels of one of the nation's most prestigious investment banks by capitalizing on his knowledge of China's transitional economy.
"I was born there, so I couldn't really be more connected," said the Shanghai native. "Perhaps 80 percent of my career has had some tie to the emergence of commerce in China."
Tang, who holds the additional title of chairman, Bear Stearns Asia, helps Chinese state-owned enterprises raise capital by tapping the public markets in Hong Kong and New York. Among the deals he has worked on are dual-listing transactions for China Mobile HK Ltd. and China Telecom Corp. Ltd.
Tang also advises companies on cross-border mergers and acquisitions. He came to the U.S. as a student at Cal Poly Pomona in the 1980s, and after stints at Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, he joined Bear Stearns in 1992, returning to L.A. in 2001.
"There are a lot of historical reasons why the ties are very, very deep between Los Angeles and China," he said. "Los Angeles, more so than San Francisco, is the place that Chinese and Asians love to visit, where they send their sons and daughters to school L.A. is the place they come to hang out."
But Tang cautions investors about the difficulties of doing business in China. "If you're a new guy, you probably underestimate the challenges," he said.
Partner, Managing Director
Ernst & Young
Since being a lead adviser to the Resolution Trust Corp., which bailed out the savings and loan industry in the 1980s, Rodman has turned to Asia and its wealth of non-performing loans.
He first went to Japan after the bubble burst in 1997 to advise banks selling distressed asset portfolios through international auctions.
Rodman then moved to Beijing, where he has advised on sales of $10 billion in distressed assets by China's major government-owned banks and their asset management companies.
Altogether, China's banking system has $414 billion in non-performing loans on its books, the most of any country. As it moves to a market driven economy, China is eyeing public listings for its banks on Western stock markets.
But first the books must be cleaned up.
Rodman leads an Ernst & Young group that advises the banks and management companies in packaging bad loans that are either backed by hard assets or have been issued to companies that are still operating.
The loans are auctioned off for perhaps 10 cents to 20 cents on the dollar, with the expectation that with a good turnaround plan, investors can realize as much as 40 cents. Buyers are institutions such as Colony Capital LLC and Morgan Stanley.
"If a guy figures he can recover 30 or 40 cents (on the dollar) he is willing to pay 15 or 20 cents," he said. "If he thinks he can recover 15 or 20 cents, he can pay 10 cents."
Rodman's big gripe: The banks are not moving fast enough to unload the debt. He figures the Chinese distressed debt market could be 10 times the size it is. "China has more non-performing loans on its books than any other country in the world," he said. "There are a lot of bad loans."
Tseng & Lee LLP
The Hong Kong native founded his South Pasadena accounting firm in 1983 and he is now sought by companies of all sizes looking to conduct business between the two countries.
Lee, who attended the University of Hawaii, speaks Mandarin, Cantonese and a Shanghai dialect, in addition to English. He often advises large Chinese companies in electronics, giftware and other export industries when they set up subsidiaries to handle their U.S. exports, ensuring that they comply with U.S. financial and tax laws.
A decade ago, most of his clients were from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Now most of his overseas clients are from the mainland. He spends a lot of time providing advice on U.S. employment law, which is much stricter than China's on issues such as overtime pay.
"The U.S. system is very protective of employees whereas in China there is no such thing," Tseng explained. "They aren't aware of overtime pay. (Chinese companies here in the United States) get in trouble many, many times."
He said the major pitfall for U.S. entrants into the China market is a lack of recognition even at this late date that it's often whom you know rather than what you know. Regulations can be a maze, and without a consultant who knows government officials, firms can get bogged down in all that red tape. "Over there, often times it's not just following the rules and regulations," he said.
Tseng is also advising more U.S. companies seeking to get into the Chinese market. His firm is not licensed to practice accountancy in China but he has affiliated firms in the major cities.
Robert W. Sweeney
East National Bank
On the job for less than a month, Sweeney already has been to Shanghai to meet with local government officials and his bank's Chinese counterpart.
Sweeney, who was managing director at GE Global Electronic Solutions before coming to Far East, says China requires patience. "I would say you have to manage your expectations."
Far East National, a unit of Taiwan-based SinoPac Holdings, is a key player in the world of factoring, a method of financing U.S. imports from Chinese manufacturers.
A strategic management contract with a mainland-based Chinese bank has allowed Far East to place managers on the premises of its partner, First Sino Bank, to institute Western-style banking practices.
Far East clients doing business in China have the ability to go through First Sino to use deposits, accounts receivable or securities as pledges to quickly obtain loan credits in the local currency.
Most U.S. banks do business with one of China's big government-owned banks adding to the cost and often the time it takes to complete a transaction.
Sweeney's role, among other duties, will be to work on deals and customer leads that emerge from the First Sino relationship and to oversee the bank's representative office in Beijing.
Sweeney says he's looking forward to 2006, when China throws open its financial sector to more foreign competition.
Thomas J. Barrack Jr.
Founder, Chairman, Chief Executive
Colony Capital LLC
Barrack's global travels to buy up distressed real estate assets and non-performing loans ultimately brought him to China. "What we're most excited about is being the financier for all of these groups that have half-built or half-developed projects that need to be finished," he said. "Our preference is to become the partner of the borrower, not the bank."
Barrack believes many outsiders looking to invest in China lack the necessary "cultural sixth sense," or guan xi a Chinese term that refers to building business relationships through trust.
"For Americans who roll into China with their laptop computers and have three days to hit seven cities, they will absolutely go bonkers," said Barrack, who served as Deputy Undersecretary of the Department of the Interior in the Reagan administration and was a principal with Robert M. Bass Group in Fort Worth, Texas, before he formed Colony Capital in 1991.
His latest project, the Yangtze Special Situations Fund LP, is a distressed debt fund targeting China. It recently closed its first round of $100 million in fundraising.
Colony is one of three general partners, along with International Finance Corp., a private-sector arm of the World Bank Group; and Shanghai Industrial Investment Co., a Chinese conglomerate.
"We wanted to be perceived as Chinese," said Barrack. "The way we did it was very slow, very concise and kind of cowardly. We set low goals for ourselves and decided to watch and listen."
Coudert Brothers LLP
Based in Los Angeles, Keever first became involved in China in 1992, structuring aircraft leases for a state-owned airline that bought planes from Boeing Corp.
The attorney advises clients on how to set up a joint venture or wholly-owned foreign enterprise in China that will throw off profits that ultimately can be returned to the U.S.
"China is so highly regulated that half of the issues are legal issues," said Keever. "A company literally has to sit down and think: How do I do this?"
Coudert Brothers opened an office in Beijing in 1979, and was one of the earliest U.S. firms to structure an equity joint venture in China the Great Wall Hotel in Beijing. The firm also represented General Motors Corp. in its $1.57 billion investment in the Shanghai automotive industry.
Keever cautions that American lawyers can be frustrated by the highly regulatory legal system. Rules often lack precision and contain language that is not as open to interpretation as here.
Keever typically works with attorneys from Coudert's offices in Beijing or Shanghai. He doesn't speak Mandarin, but language isn't a barrier. "Usually there will be three or four people in a group who are bilingual, so we have very few mistakes in understanding because any looseness of the language gets ironed out," he said.
Raymond F. Henze III
Group Managing Director
Private Placements and Real Estate
TCW Group Inc.
Henze oversees real estate and operating investments for L.A.-based Trust Company of the West, which has invested $800 million in mainland China since 1995.
TCW's China strategy involves investing exclusively with Taiwanese who have already had success in starting, building and running businesses on the Chinese mainland, and avoiding investments in any state-owned enterprises.
Henze reasons that experienced Taiwanese investors, who have poured $100 billion into China and control nearly 75 percent of the semiconductor and notebook computer firms, are effective filters against downside risks.
"There is a lot of bureaucracy and they can try to confound you and create problems," he said. As a result, managers spend a lot of time pacifying local government officials.
TCW currently has four dedicated China funds and an additional $1.5 billion invested in the Asia Pacific region. Henze, who is based in New York, works closely with L.A.-based senior vice president Douglas B. Thomas, who is responsible for the firm's private equity joint ventures in Asia and South Asia.
Henze typically looks for operating companies that can ultimately be taken public on the Hong Kong, Singapore or U.S. stock exchanges. "What I see happening time and time again in China is that investors forget their disciplines and they fall in love with the opportunities," he said.
Henry M. Fields
Morrison & Foerster LLP
Fields has developed a practice with a dual focus on mainland China and advising ethnic Chinese banks that are based in Southern California.
Fields helps non-mainland banks navigate the bureaucratic and cultural hurdles and he's also advised foreign banks seeking to open branches in Los Angeles. Clients include Taiwan-based China Trust Commercial Bank, Los Angeles-based Far East National Bank and Hong Kong-based Bank of East Asia,
His latest projects include advising a mainland Chinese joint-venture bank on the sale of an equity stake, and handling the application of a China-based investment bank looking to become a U.S. regulated broker-dealer.
Fields' own interest in China blossomed in 1992, when he met the head of Taiwan's Central Bank, which was in the process of privatizing its banking system.
"China is looking at following a path that the Taiwanese used," he said, noting that Taiwanese banks have developed information technology systems in Chinese that are easily adaptable to the mainland. "This is a well thought-out plan to allow the Chinese banks to develop."
Morrison & Foerster has a large presence in China, with offices in Shanghai and Beijing. It is one of the few U.S. law firms representing the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2008 Olympic Games.
O'Melveny & Myers LLP
Chao, a Taiwanese native who was raised in the United States, heads up the Asia practice of the downtown law firm where he has worked for 24 years.
Chao built the firm's Japanese practice from 1987 to 1991 but left after that country's economy went sour. By 1994, he had convinced the Los Angeles-based firm's partners that the Chinese economy was for real, and was opening offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Now operating largely in Silicon Valley, he has witnessed the growth and transformation of the Chinese economy to an international dynamo.
"In the old days ownership categories were very clear. You basically had state-owned enterprises, so-called collective enterprises, privates like grocery stores and then foreign investment," Chao said. "Today you have much more complex ownership patterns. Chinese companies are hard to define."
A decade ago, much of the firm's China practice involved advising Western companies such as General Motors and British Petroleum wanting to set up joint ventures. Today, many clients are Chinese firms that are floating bonds or have big plans for initial public offerings amid a dynamic market that is constantly changing.
Chao said his practice, which has grown to more than 50 attorneys working in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong, includes attorneys licensed in China who also have assorted contacts with local government officials. "You need to have a combination of skill sets," he said.
Chair, Asia Policy Research
Author of the groundbreaking book, "The Rise of China," Overholt spent 16 years in Hong Kong and has seen firsthand the country's dramatic changes over the last two decades.
"When I went to Shanghai in 1982, all the adults were wearing the same drab gray and blue outfits with the same haircuts, and most people looked tired, worn out and unmotivated," he said. "Now you go there and the streets are filled with cars, the people wear colorful clothes and there is energy and confidence."
Overholt worked as an investment banker at Bankers Trust and Nomura Securities in Hong Kong, and at what was then BankBoston in Singapore. Yet he remains more of a scholar and diplomat, having negotiated directly with Chinese Premier Li Peng before the 1997 British handover of Hong Kong. He testified twice this year before Congress about recent democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
Overholt returned to Los Angeles in 2001 and said there's at least one thing he doesn't miss: pollution.
"It's nice to have the clean California air," he said. "After years in Hong Kong, I can call the California air clean."
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