Early Daze: Part IVBy Derek On April 12, 2012 Under Post
My phone rang. I went into Daniel’s office and sat in the chair opposite his big desk.
“Good morning, Daniel. How are things?”
“How do you wash your hands?”
“I use soap.”
By now I knew resistance was useless.
“Many people use soap. But just using soap isn’t enough.”
“Yes, I see.”
I started staring at my nails again.
The next week we got news that Yung Kao was going to do a Taiwan joint venture with Peregrine Securities in Hong Kong. Peregrine at the time was Asia’s most successful homegrown investment bank. They were opening offices right across the region and doing deals everywhere. They had a “can do” attitude, were in all the hot deals and everyone wanted to work there. This was seriously good news. I couldn’t wait for it to happen so I could call clients and say, “This is Derek, from Peregrine, Taiwan,” rather than “Yung Kao.” The whole “Yung Kao” name thing reminded me of Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue.” The story is about a boy whose Dad named him Sue before running off:
Well, he must o’ thought that it was quite a joke
And it got a lot of laughs from a’ lots of folks,
It seems I had to fight my whole life through.
Some gal would giggle and I’d get red
And some guy’d laugh and I’d bust his head,
I tell ya, life ain’t easy for a boy named “Sue.”
Life wasn’t easy for Jacob and me either when we called new clients. Even our regular clients still thought the name was funny. Those conversations would inevitably begin:
“Morning, James. Derek here at Yung Kao.”
“Ah, yes. Derek, one of the ‘Yung Kao Boys.’”
But cold calling new clients was worse.
“Hello, is this Nigel McAllister of Dipsy Doo Asset Management?”
“Hi. My name is Derek Hillen and I am calling you from Yung Kao Securities in Taiwan. We..”
“Uh, Yung Kao Securities.”
“No, no. “Yung Kao,” it’s Chinese for..”
“Derek at Young Cow. Hmmm. Are you selling dairy products? Ice cream, perhaps?”
And so it went. But now we not only had the opportunity to bury our awful name but to emerge with the very desirable Peregrine brand. I was all for it, just for that reason alone.
Daniel called a company meeting together to discuss the planned “integration” with Peregrine.
“As you may have heard, we will be integrating with Peregrine Securities Asia, based in Hong Kong. This will mean some changes will occur around here. Good changes. We will have more resources. We will have more research…”
Jacob asked a hopeful question.
“Are we gonna be Peregrine Taiwan?”
“No. I think we will be “Yung Kao/Peregrine Securities Taiwan.”
I couldn’t believe it. What?
News came to us that the CEO of Peregrine itself, Mr. Philip Tose, would be visiting us in Taiwan. I assumed he wanted to look over the Yung Kau operation first hand to see what he was buying. He arrived with Pat Fu, who was the senior salesman to be responsible for the Taiwan operation. Pat was a short and roly-poly Hong Konger who had previously worked for Daniel which meant he had undying loyal towards his former boss. Daniel could do no wrong in his eyes. Pat was round and ebullient, a good foil to Tose’s whippet-like frame and austere laconicism.
Jacob and I met them in Daniel’s large office where they had been locked away most of the morning discussing things. Tose was a sharply dressed, diminutive and quiet man with a shrewd face in his late 40’s. A former race car driver whose father moved him into the family business of stockbroking after a bad crash, he liked speed. He liked risk. He liked Yung Kau.
He had named his firm Peregrine after the swift and savage little raptor and enjoyed the firm’s equal reputation for ruthlessness. Peregrine was a powerful combination of Hong Kong tycoon money, bankrolled by Li Ka-shing – the richest man in Asia and Anglo-Saxon stockbroking know how. Tose’s partner was the impeccably well connected Francis Leung whose connections not only brought Li Ka-shing’s wallet to the table but extended to decision makers in Beijing and allowed Peregrine to participate in several lucrative Chinese IPOs. However, it was all to end badly for Peregrine and “Tosey,” as well. But that was several years into the future. Right now, it was about to end badly for me.
We had a brief discussion with Tose asking us what we thought of the Taiwan market. This was to make conversation and see if we knew anything. After a minute or two, he judged correctly that we didn’t. Jacob and I had both heard of Peregrine and were keen on joining the “winning team.” My exuberance about the whole thing allowed me to say something asinine.
“I am looking forward to research integration where we can present to clients the complete Greater China picture: China AND Taiwan.”
Tose replied drily, “I want to make money.”
Our meeting was over. Jacob and l were ushered out of the room.
“What was that bullshitty thing you just said?” Jacob mimicked me, “‘I am looking forward to research integration and…’” shaking his head as we walked out.
“Yeah…well….fuck.” I just stammered, turning red.
I only met Tose once or twice after that but Pat Fu was a regular visitor to Taiwan. He came when there were problems to sort out. As I said, he was a regular visitor.
The next day Daniel called me into his office.
“Hoare’s was a great house.”
He was talking about the British brokers Hoare Govett where he worked for many years in Hong Kong.
“At the time, we were the number one house in Asia.”
“Asia” at the time basically meant Hong Kong but the point was still valid.
“I am bringing my old friend to Taipei to work here. Wilbur Williams is a great salesman and you will learn a lot from him.”
This was also interesting. “Willy” had already retired and was in his mid-50s. Daniel had made some promises to get Willy to leave his comfortable life in the country in the UK and bring his ample frame and his proper English wife all the way over to gritty Taiwan. The upcoming merger with Peregrine was already having an impact.
“Really? Great. Has he been to Taiwan before?”
“I don’t think that matters. We worked together in Hong Kong many years.”
I had an uneasy feeling that this adventure wasn’t going to end well.
Willy breezed into our lives a few weeks later. He was perfectly groomed, perfectly mannered, loved a laugh and was very much an older, dyed in the wool British broker in the best tradition. Now what the hell was he doing in Taiwan; a place, at that time, that lacked all sophistication, was dirty and polluted and had a very small expatriate community? Willy’s Taiwan experience was to prove far different from his enjoyable time in Hong Kong with its English styled clubs and restaurants and entertainment supported by a vast army of British expats who still ruled the colonial roost and were visible running the civil service and police force as well.
Willy would always show up to work in a pressed pink shirt with French cuffs and tie, freshly scrubbed and bathed in cologne. Just shaking hands with him meant I carried that fragrance around all day long. But Willy’s lack of a sense of smell was more than made up for by his agreeable personality and he was keen to show Jacob and I how a real stockbroker operated.
Willy had a coterie of old friends still in Hong Kong managing money of various sums. Every morning he would call these mates up and speak in an authoritative BBC English tone;
“Wilbur Williams here. I would like to speak to Mr. Nigel Jones, please.”
A pause as he listened to the Cantonese secretary at the other end.
“Yes, Wilbur. Williams. I am with Yung Kau Securities Limited.” Pause.
“Ah, Nigel, old chap. Wilbur Williams here. Just a quickie, as the bishop said to the actress….”
Jacob and I, very American, looked at one another. We didn’t think we could pull that off.
At lunch Willy would often ask, rubbing his manicured hands together,
“Come on, chaps. What are we having for luncheon today, eh?”
“I know a new sandwich place down the alley. They use too much of that fake butter and the meat is green, but it’s pretty good.” So opined young Jacob.
“Right. I think we shall give up on that one, son.”
“There’s mostly just Chinese places around here,” I ventured.
“I am sure we can find something other than ‘double boiled squirrels bollocks.’”
Actually, you couldn’t. And that was the problem.
A week after Willy arrived and Pat Fu came to town and he took us three, the international sales team, out to lunch. A good broker, Pat knew how to keep a conversation going.
“Did I tell you I went to school in the US?” he asked. “Yeah, got my MBA there in Pennsylvania.”
“How was it?”
“Ah, it was great. Except Americans don’t know how to handle my Chinese name. Every time I called a restaurant to make a reservation it went like this:” he pretended to talk into the phone.
‘Hello, I’d like to make a reservation for dinner for two tonight at 7:00 PM, please.”
‘Yes, your last name, please?
“What? Yeah, well F-U too, buddy!”
“And they hang up the phone!”
He laughed his jolly laugh and we laughed along with him.
A couple of weeks later we had more news. Daniel was bringing in another member of the old “Hoare’s” team, Carey McDougal. A Scot with red hair, also in his mid-50s, Cary was to be our head of research and economist. He was a brilliant thinker but, like most Scots of my acquaintance, he had a darker, brooding side to his personality. The Taiwan experiment for him too, was to end badly.
When Carey arrived he found our research, such that it was, “appalling,” and “in serious need of repair.” Willy was glad to have Carey back on his team but much like Johnny Tsai, didn’t really give a fig for research. Carey, however, launched himself into the job and cranked out a 60 page report on the Taiwan economy – something we had never seen before. I think it was something no one had done before in Taiwan. The report was very erudite and Daniel was chuffed but you couldn’t really “broke” that story. However, we all agreed it was a promising start. We were getting our international team together and the future was bright. Things started to go downhill right after that.
I went in to research to get a report. Olivier was talking with Johnson and was in yet another new suit. His hair was immaculate and when he turned to face me I saw he had new glasses on.
“Nice shades, Olivier.”
“’Shades?’ What is ‘shades’?”
“Glasses. Nice new glasses, Olivier.”
“Thank you very much. I like them,” came his high pitched reply.
Jacob walked into the room overhearing the last bit of conversation.
“Hey, Olivier. Can you say, “Hot beef injection?”
“Hot feed what?”
“Hot beef injection.”
“Ok. Hot beef injunction,” his voice rising to a high note at the end.
Jacob laughed good naturedly. “Never mind. It’s cool.”
I looked at Big Johnson. “Johnson, I wanted to talk to you. Daniel says you and I are going on a business trip to Hong Kong to go see clients.”
I was enthusiastic about this, my first business trip. Johnson, clearly was not.
“I am not going,” he said quietly looking down at his shoes.
“What? Of course you are. Daniel said so.”
He didn’t say anything but I could see his obvious reluctance in actually leaving research to go face a client. All our analysts had this problem, I noticed. They were much more comfortable in their cubicles, surrounded by their papers and files, working on a company update that would never be read. Ripping them away from that cozy, protected environment was like plucking a goldfish out of the bowl and placing it on the counter; it would just lie there gasping a short while before expiry.
I walked over to Gerry’s desk. Now that Carey had arrived, Gerry had been demoted to assistant head of research. For some strange reason, though, he didn’t seem to mind. He looked up from his computer when I approached.
“Hey, Gerry. What about this trip to Hong Kong to see clients? Who is going?”
“I don’t know. Probably you and Daniel.”
“Yeah, he always goes. He might want me to go along too.”
“Great. That would be better if it were the three of us.”
I didn’t think a trip with the boss alone was going to be a pleasant experience given all the lectures I would have to sit through. A date was set and research prepared three heavy boxes of presentations for us to take over to Hong Kong to present to clients. Gerry somewhat absent mindedly left them at the airport. This was the days before email and we just had to carry on without our material and I don’t think Daniel ever forgave him for that.
The meetings by and large went well with Daniel doing almost all the talking. He lived in Hong Kong and seemed to know everybody and equally importantly, where all the offices were. The place was a warren of buildings, overhead walkways and passages that was hard to navigate unless you had spent time on the ground there. Central Hong Kong was bustling with well dressed people compared to Taipei which was … bustling. There were more foreigners here than probably all of Asia combined. I had been through Hong Kong in the past but it was always as a backpacker on my way to deepest, darkest China. Actually being there “for work” and on a real “business trip” for me was very novel.
Daniel spent the nights at home, of course, but Gerry and I were put up at the Furama Hotel. I was loving it – a real business trip, free meals and a nice hotel right on the water. This was a far cry from living in my beat up old tent on a beach in Costa Rica. I felt I was going places.