Tom Doctoroff: Paul French is wrong about China (and Tom Doctoroff)
May 5, 2008
Tom Doctoroff, CEO of J. Walter Thompson for Greater China, accepted my invitation to respond to the critique of his book by Shanghai-based writer and businessman Paul French.
The real pioneer, French said, is Carl Crow, a Shanghai adman in the 1920s and 1930s who introduced Buick and other brands to China. French recently published the book Carl Crow, a tough old China hand.
Doctoroff’s reply to French:
I don’t know what to say. I believe the posting is unbalanced and the tone is bully-boy cocky.
How does one respond to a sweeping statement — at least my book, on the first page, warns of “generalizations” — that yours truly is “wrong about China.”
And then he rails against me, sarcasm dripping, for having the audacity to call myself a “pioneer” when Carl Crow had already seen “everything.” He’s playing a gotcha game gone bad.
First, I have never called myself a pioneer. And, by the way, no one “took credit” (or implied involvement) for launching Buick. We did not even do that work. Bates did.
Second, Carl Crow was man of ahead of his time — yes, he was a “pioneer” and blessed with extraordinary insight and observational skill. However, he did not see “everything.”
The world has changed just a bit in 75 years.
He did not see a middle class boasting 150 million people and an auto market with 6 million passenger cars sold per year. He did not see a mass market — now penetrating the rural fringe — snapping up mobile phones and using them to transform their lives. He did not see multinational corporations setting up R&D centers and manufacturing scale on the mainland. He did not see that extraordinary release of energy that resulted from the embrace of capital markets.
For anyone to assume that “everything” has been seen before discredits that extraordinary genius of the Chinese people and their ability to adapt to an evolving world without sacrificing their enduring cultural orientation.
It also denigrates the efforts of, yes, expatriate businessmen who, while far from perfect and certainly not always noble, have done their part to make China a more dynamic place as the 21st century unfolds.