How a Western entrepreneur turned 50 thousand dollars into 50 million dollars in Asia – Chris Devonshire Ellis of Dezan Shira and Associates
INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 1:02:25)
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Chris Devonshire Ellis, Founder of Dezan Shira Associates shares a lifetime of business and life lessons building an Asia Growth focused professional services firm. Starting a consulting practice in China 32 years ago, Chris has grown his business to 40 offices across Asia and $40 Million+ in revenues. Chris shares his outlook in China, Asia, as well as building a company culture of love rather than fear.
Chris Devonshire Ellis shares his entrepreneurial journey and what motivated him to start his own company in Asia almost 30 years ago. Despite facing obstacles and negative advice, he believed there was a gap in the market and followed his gut instinct, which proved to be successful. His company, Dezan Shira Associates, provides a range of services to help businesses expand into foreign markets, including market intelligence, legal assistance, tax planning, and guidance on operational issues. He also discusses the importance of adapting to new technologies, understanding and appreciating local cultures, and fostering a positive work environment. Devonshire Ellis highlights the significant opportunities for growth and investment in Asia, particularly in China and India, while also expressing hope for a more liberal and peaceful global society.
- 00:00:00 In this section, Chris Devonshire Ellis shares his entrepreneurial journey and what motivated him to start his own company in Asia almost 30 years ago. He explains that one of the reasons he set up his own company was because he kept getting fired from his previous jobs. Chris also mentions that his first job was as a yacht broker in Greece, which gave him the experience of working overseas. After that, he found it difficult to settle back in Europe and decided to go to Hong Kong, attracted by the upcoming Handover. He got a job as a Commodities broker and had a great introduction to Asia, which eventually led him to work for Asia Law Practice.
- 00:05:00 In this section, Chris Devonshire Ellis discusses his journey of starting his own consulting practice in China despite the apprehension and warnings from others. He believed there was a gap in the market and followed his gut instinct, which proved to be successful. Over the course of 32 years, his firm has grown from just him to several hundred employees with over 40 offices across Asia, and their turnover has increased from $40,000 to $50 million. Chris emphasizes the importance of believing in your ideas and not being deterred by negative advice. He also mentions that his prior experience in Greece and doing research on the changing landscape in China contributed to his decision. Chris concludes by sharing a language learning tip for those interested in Chinese, highlighting the significance of context over perfect pronunciation.
- 00:10:00 In this section, Chris Devonshire Ellis discusses his approach to learning Mandarin Chinese and his experience immersing himself in Chinese culture. Despite the importance of tones in the Chinese language, he chose to focus on expanding his vocabulary instead. He admits to making mistakes, such as accidentally saying offensive words, but found that the Chinese people were understanding and forgiving. Chris also emphasizes the significance of understanding and appreciating the culture of the country where one plans to establish a business. He suggests immersing oneself in the local customs, arts, and history to gain a deeper understanding of the place and its people. Chris believes that this cultural knowledge is invaluable for entrepreneurs who want to succeed in a foreign market.
- 00:15:00 In this section, Chris Devonshire Ellis, the founder of Dezan Shira Associates, shares the interesting story behind the name of his company. He explains that it was a result of a misspelling of his surname during his time working in China. Instead of Devonshire Ellis, his name was spelled as Desan Shir. Finding the name cool and unique, he decided to name his company after the mistake. He also mentions that the words “Desan” and “Shir” have Sanskrit origins and translate to “House of rice,” which is considered auspicious in Asia. Despite the spelling error, the company has become a well-known brand in the region.
- 00:20:00 In this section, Chris Devonshire Ellis discusses the various services his company provides to businesses looking to expand into different countries. This includes market intelligence to help companies understand consumer tastes and market segments, legal assistance in setting up and structuring companies correctly, tax planning to reduce tax liabilities, and guidance on operational issues such as compliance, human resources, and language barriers. He also mentions his separate business, Asia Briefing, which provides publications on the legal, regulatory, and other issues businesses need to know when operating in different countries. Overall, his goal is to help companies navigate the complexities of expanding into foreign markets and ensure their success.
- 00:25:00 In this section, Chris Devonshire Ellis discusses how his publishing company supports the marketing efforts of his firm and emphasizes the importance of adapting to new technologies and delegating tasks. He mentions that his team handles e-commerce, social networking, search engine optimization, and other digital aspects of the business, highlighting the evolution of job roles in the digital era. Chris believes that it is essential for business owners to let go of certain responsibilities and bring in younger professionals who are more adept at handling the rapidly changing technological landscape. He also points out that media reports about China’s economy can often be misleading, and despite the negative narratives, his firm is seeing an increase in foreign investors interested in doing business in Asia, particularly China.
- 00:30:00 In this section, the speaker discusses the evolution of manufacturing and consumer markets in China. Initially, American businessmen saw China as a market with a billion consumers, but soon realized the complexities of doing business there. Manufacturing in China began as a way to access the Chinese market and take advantage of cheap labor, leading to American brands like Ford and GM using Chinese-made components. However, as the Chinese market grew, it started to damage the American industry, leading to the relocation of factories to other countries like Vietnam and India. Despite this, China remains a significant consumer market, with plans to double the number of middle-class consumers in the next 20-25 years. This presents a lucrative opportunity for businesses to make and sell products to Chinese consumers. The tastes and preferences of Chinese consumers are also changing, with a shift towards items like wines and a growing interest in areas like technology, culture, and health care.
- 00:35:00 In this section, Chris Devonshire Ellis emphasizes the significant opportunities for growth and investment in Asia, particularly in China and India. Despite concerns about China’s economic performance, Devonshire Ellis highlights the immense consumer market potential and the rise of the middle class in these countries. He also mentions that Asia has surpassed the West in terms of absolute wealth, making it an attractive market for businesses. Additionally, he suggests that Africa is becoming a prominent destination for low-cost manufacturing, while Latin America holds potential for rapid growth once its economic issues are resolved. Devonshire Ellis acknowledges that predicting the future can be challenging due to factors such as declining birth rates and the impact of artificial intelligence, but he recognizes that these trends could shape the global landscape in unforeseen ways.
- 00:40:00 In this section, Chris Devonshire Ellis discusses the decline of Islamic fundamentalism and the potential for a more liberal Islamic world. He believes that the Muslim world has largely managed to address the issue of radicalization, with countries like Saudi Arabia taking steps towards opening up and liberalizing. Devonshire Ellis sees the integration of the Islamic world into the West as a positive thing, as it promotes a global community based on equality and tolerance. Despite the challenges of population growth in the Muslim world and Africa, he remains hopeful that a more peaceful and just global society is on the horizon. Moving on to his management style, he describes himself as an autocratic or benign dictator, highlighting his role as the chairman and largest shareholder of his company. With a small board of trusted individuals, decisions are made collectively and only involve a few people, ensuring efficiency and a strong working relationship. If there is a disagreement, Devonshire Ellis ultimately has the final say.
- 00:45:00 In this section, Chris Devonshire Ellis highlights the importance of managing a company with love rather than fear. He believes in investing in the staff and creating a positive work environment with artwork, cool furniture, and lots of plants. The company celebrates birthdays, marriages, and pregnancies with cake time and baby showers. They even pay for motivational trips and annual team-building trips. By fostering a sense of loyalty and belonging, they are able to retain their employees, despite competition from bigger firms offering higher salaries.
- 00:50:00 In this section, the speaker discusses the importance of culture in a company and how it can outweigh monetary compensation. Moving on to rapid-fire questions, he mentions that he doesn’t read self-help or business books but prefers to unwind with a good novel or music to foster creativity. He also expresses interest in supply chain developments and transportation infrastructure as innovative ideas. When asked about productivity tools or software, he admits to being technologically outdated and relies on his IT department for such matters. He recommends the Night Sky app for relaxation and stargazing. Finally, he draws inspiration from individuals who are involved in charities and have a good work-life balance.
- 00:55:00 In this section, Chris Devonshire Ellis discusses the people who inspire him, stating that he is not interested in hanging out with other businessmen who only talk about their success and material possessions. Instead, he is inspired by individuals involved in charity work and other diverse initiatives. He also shares three pieces of business advice, including trusting your instincts, celebrating failures to learn from them, and avoiding borrowing money to maintain control over your business. He encourages entrepreneurs to work hard, continuously improve, and carefully observe competitors to find ways to outperform them.
- 01:00:00 In this section, the speaker discusses the advantage of using his own money in business decisions rather than relying on bank loans. He explains that using personal funds allows for quicker decision making and more flexibility. He shares an example of setting up an office in the Middle East, which was accomplished in six months due to the ability to make quick decisions without external financial constraints. He advises against borrowing money and emphasizes the importance of celebrating failures and keeping others out of the business. The interviewer thanks him for sharing his inspiring story and business advice.
- 01:00:00 In this section, the speaker discusses the importance of having a unique selling point for a product or brand. They explain that uniqueness does not necessarily mean inventing something completely new, but rather finding a way to differentiate yourself from competitors. The example of Burger King is given, where although they are unique in their own right, other burger shops have imitated them enough to become competitors. The speaker emphasizes the need to create a brand that stands out and appeals to consumers, using McDonald’s as another example whose slogan is unique. They conclude by thanking the speaker for sharing their story and offering well wishes for their future invention journey and business endeavors.
People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode
What You’ll Learn
Interview with Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates
|[00:00:40] Introduction to Chris Devonshire Ellis|
|[00:01:12] Motivation to Start an Entrepreneurial Journey in Asia|
|[00:02:17] Early Career and Experiences in Greece|
|[00:03:37] Initial Fear and Decision to Move to Hong Kong|
|[00:05:12] Transition into Legal Services in Hong Kong|
|[00:06:00] Setting Up Consulting Practice in Mainland China|
|[00:07:33] Growth of the Consulting Practice|
|[00:10:00] Learning Chinese and the Importance of Cultural Immersion|
|[00:15:27] The Origin of the Company Name|
|[00:19:00] Services Offered to Businesses in Asia|
|[00:19:39] Market Intelligence and Business Research|
|[00:22:00] Legal Assistance and Structuring|
|[00:22:53] Tax Planning and Compliance|
|[00:25:00] Asia Briefing Publications|
|[00:26:30] The Importance of Adapting to New Technologies|
|[00:27:47] The Importance of Delegation|
|[00:28:00] Trends in Business Growth|
|[00:28:32] Selling and Investing in Asia|
|[00:28:39] Chris’s Perspective on Trends|
|[00:29:00] Media Perception vs. Reality in China|
|[00:29:19] Manufacturing and Market Growth in China|
|[00:29:39] Chinese Consumer Market|
|[00:30:00] The Future of Manufacturing|
|[00:42:48] Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Management Style|
|[00:43:10] Daily Management vs. High-Level Strategy|
|[00:43:26] Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: Autocratic Style|
|[00:44:01] Small Board of Directors|
|[00:45:00] Responsibility Delegation and Promotions|
|[00:46:04] Dealing with Staff Loyalty and Competition|
|[00:47:00] Running a Company on Love|
|[00:50:38] Book Recommendations|
|[00:51:43] Innovative Product or Idea|
|[00:52:53] Business or Productivity Tools|
|[00:54:19] Role Models and Inspiration|
|[00:56:00] Involvement in Charities|
|[00:56:48] Final Business Advice for Entrepreneurs|
|[00:57:07] Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: Key Business Advice|
In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates
- Book recommendation that you would make to entrepreneurs or business professionals (Response:)
- An innovative product or idea in the current e-commerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response: International North South Transportation Corridor)
- A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend/Productivity Tip. (Response:)
- A startup or business (in ecommerce, retail, or tech) that you think is currently doing great things. (Response🙂
- A peer entrepreneur or businessperson whom you look up to or someone who inspires you (Response: The people that inspire me are the people that get involved with charities and have got a good life balance.)
- One networking tip or building and sustaining valuable professional relationships.
- Best business advice you ever received (Response: If you think it’s right, it probably is. So don’t listen to anyone else. If you think you’re right, that’s all that matters)
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Hey there entrepreneurs. My name is Sushant and welcome to Treptalks. Today I’m really excited to welcome Chris Devonshire Ellis to the show. Chris is the founder, founding partner of Dezan Shira and Associates. They are [00:01:00] an Asia focused consulting practice with the specializations in law, tax, compliance and related issues for foreign investors, mainly from United States and Europe who wish to trade with, sell to or start up businesses in Asia.
And today I’m going to ask Chris a few questions about his entrepreneur journey and how his business provides value to its clients. So Chris, thank you so much for joining me today at TrepTalks Really, really appreciate your time and looking forward to speaking with you. So, uh, so I did a little bit of a research on you, uh, online, and you have a very interesting story.
You kind of selected, or you kind of bet on the Asian markets almost 30 years ago. You started your business almost 30 years ago. Uh, so can you share a little bit about your entrepreneurial story? What motivated you to start your entrepreneurial journey and specifically in Asia, you know, because 30 years ago, I think not many people would have kind [00:02:00] of guessed that, you know, China would be, um, or Asia would be, you know, the kind of, uh, power, you know, the kind of growth that Asia is having right now.
So what kind of motivated you to go to Asia?
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: Well, um, well, first of all, uh, one of the reasons I set up my company is because, uh, I kept getting fired from my previous jobs. Um, so I have the only way out of this solution of being such a terrible employee was, was to set up my own company. Um, but before that, my first job actually, uh, was, um, uh, I was a yacht broker in, uh, in Greece.
Uh, I spent four years, uh, there. So my first job was actually as an expat. Now selling yachts and brokering, uh, vessels is a bit different, uh, in Europe and Greece than it is in [00:03:00] Asia. But having had that very early experience, um, being, uh, overseas didn’t really phase me. I’d already made that, uh, jump. And I do remember way, way back in those days, um, getting on that plane to Greece and thinking, Maybe I shouldn’t do this.
Maybe this is a terrible mistake. I should stay in the UK and not do this, but I’d already got on the plane. So it’s too late. Um, so I overcame that initial fear. Um, very early on in my life. Um, so those four years I spent in Greece were actually, um, were actually very helpful when it came for my time to, um, look elsewhere.
Now, uh, when I, when that job finished, um, the, um, I found it very difficult to settle, um, back in, uh, Europe. I thought that I, I probably knew better than my bosses did, which wasn’t very helpful when you’re trying to have a career. Trust me. Um, so I didn’t get on. I found it hard to settle. I kept on getting fired.
I tried many different things. [00:04:00] Um, and eventually I just got fed up with this and, um, uh, I’d been to China. I’d been to Hong Kong on holiday. I had friends there and, um, I decided that I would go to, I decided I would go to Hong Kong. The handover was still several years ago and, um, away. Uh, and I felt that that was going to be an interesting experience to to go through that, uh, and see the uh, uh, the party like it’s 1997 vibe, uh, which it really was in those days I I got a a job initially as a commodities broker something again completely new Um, and uh, really hong kong was in full on.
This is the end of an era party mode Um, uh, so, uh, so that was a lot of fun and, uh, again, a great introduction to, to Asia, although I had been there on holiday. Um, I then, uh, worked for a company called Asia Law and Practice, um, their publishers are now part of Euromoney, uh, and that got [00:05:00] me, uh, back into the, uh, back into the legal, uh, services industry, and I then worked for a couple of law firms, uh, and I started taking trips to mainland China, which was still a fairly new industry.
unusual thing to do in those days. People were kind of, you know, afraid. And when I, when it came to me, I thought there was a gap in the services industry in, uh, in China. Uh, there was still, um, apprehension in the West, particularly about what would happen. Um, when I told my boss at, um, uh, Asia Law and Practice that I was going to leave and set up my own consulting practice in China.
He said, Chris, don’t go. It’s dirty. It’s horrible. Nothing works. And they’ll rip you off. And you know what? He was right, but none of it to a critical degree. Um, so, um, so he, he was right, but my gut feeling that I could make something happen there, uh, and that there was a gap [00:06:00] in the market was correct. So there’s a lesson there actually for entrepreneurs.
If what you think is right, and if you think that you’ve got the right idea, the right concept, then that means that probably is right. And don’t be put off by other people telling you otherwise. So I didn’t take my boss’s advice. I went to mainland China, set up a firm, uh, and, uh, yes, it was difficult. Uh, and now 32 years later, uh, that, um, which started basically with just me, uh, trying to set up, um, foreign companies and representing them in terms of the contracts and various other, uh, things in China has gone from me.
And then, uh, I employed two girls from Sichuan to help. Um, now we have several hundred employees, uh, right across Asia, um, and, uh, over 40 offices. This is our 32nd year of. Operations and with growing from I think my first year’s turnover was about [00:07:00] 40 or 50, 000. And now it’s um, it’s about 40 or 50 million.
Uh, so quite a big, quite a big growth there. Um, so with, with grown, uh, with always been a. Now, perhaps we’re a small to medium enterprise. Uh, but yeah, we’ve, we’ve had to do it all on our own and, um, it’s been, it’s been a great journey. So, so from, you know, 50 K to. 50 million. Uh, that’s, uh, that’s basically what, uh, what, uh, what the journey has been.
I mean, it seems like you’re,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: you know, you, you made a bet, um, based on your gut intuition and that, that kind of, um, paid off, you know, it’s like, uh,
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: um, Yeah, well, I, I did do my research. I mean, China was, China was interesting. It was opening up and I was based in Hong Kong. At the time, so I, I took trips there.
I went to Shanghai, for example, you know, it’s a, it’s an [00:08:00] evocative city and always was. I mean, back in the day in the twenties and thirties, it was, uh, it was a rock and roll place, you know, um, when I went in the, um, in the, uh, uh, late 1980s, early 1990s, it was a huge city that had just kind of fallen asleep.
Um, but I could sense. The there were going to be a lot of changes. Uh, and, um, I was right when I was when I was in Shanghai. It’s a big city. I think then it was about, um, you know, five or 6 million people. And now it’s probably about 20. But everyone, you know, coming out of Hong Kong and his taxes and Rolls Royces and everything there and in Shanghai, you know, and actually a larger city.
Uh, the, um, everyone was, uh, I was on bicycles and I felt that this, this is crazy. This, this is not sustainable, uh, and sure enough within a few years. Those people riding bicycles, they graduated to little scooters and [00:09:00] motorbikes and then cars and, and so the whole thing just kind of exploded and I was there at the right time.
But it wasn’t, it wasn’t purely by luck. I did do my homework. I did go and see and feel. Uh, and I here, I think my experience back in Greece helped because it didn’t really phase me being in a foreign country, learning the language. didn’t faze me. Um, in fact, I had to because hardly anyone in China spoke English.
I bought myself a little Berlitz guide, um, and, uh, a little, a little notepad. And here’s a lesson for people interested in Chinese. I didn’t bother with all the tones. You know, there’s a lot of different tones, the way you say different words. Um, I didn’t bother with that, because even if you get it wrong, the Chinese, if you’ve got the right word, the Chinese will still know what you’re saying.
They’ll put it into context. And in any event, there’s no, not really any such thing as fluent Chinese, to be frank. It’s a huge… [00:10:00] Uh, with many, many, many regional dialects. So, they’re used to having words mispronounced in slightly different ways. So, I just ignored the tones, which a lot of people in the West, you’ve got to learn the tones, you’ve got to learn the tones.
I, I didn’t bother with that. I just learned the words. Um, that’s meant that I could really expand my vocabulary quite quickly instead of concentrating on something which was perhaps a little bit more superfluous. So the issue with Chinese is that there’s no, as a language, there’s no correlation to any of the European languages.
The European languages are all kind of interrelated with each other. French, German, Latin, Greek, so on and so forth. But in China, coming from Europe, every… Word is a new word. So I concentrated on on that rather than at times and let the Chinese work out what it was. I was trying to say, and in most cases, generally, generally succeeded a couple of a couple of [00:11:00] occasions where it went terribly wrong.
And I sent something offensive, but that that mistake quickly got Cleared up and, um, you know, people, people laugh and, and joke about the, the, these things, uh, uh, for, for example, the, I, I shouldn’t, should I give you an example? It’s slightly rude. The, the, the, the, the, the number gout, uh, can mean, um, uh, the, the word gout, it can mean, um, Dog, the number nine, or penis, so you kind of need to know which, but, you know, I’m sure I said penis sometimes and I meant dog, but, you know, but the Chinese, you know, they didn’t bat an eyelid.
So, um, the language, I concentrated on the, on the words, uh, and, um, putting together sentences, uh, the grammar is actually pretty easy. Um, rather than the tone. So if you do want to learn Chinese, I’d really recommend a little Berlitz guide and a, and a pen and paper and just write down the words as you, um, as you hear [00:12:00] them, and as you think you would say them, um, rather than get caught up in all the, the science of tones.
I think that that’s, uh, that takes up too much time and it’s unnecessary on the, on the ground in the real, in the real world, which is where I was doing, but yeah, homework, um, So visiting any new market, doesn’t have to be China, uh, could be, could be anywhere, go there, spend the time, uh, travel around. Um, I mean, when I first set up my company, I stayed in China for seven years without leaving, um, firstly, because, um, firstly, because frankly, I didn’t have enough money to go anywhere else, you know, flights were expensive, especially back to Europe, it was a lot of money, and I was investing everything I could into my own business, so I didn’t have trips home, so, but I did have holidays, and I took my vacations in China, and I’ve traveled pretty much everywhere in that country.
There are some exceptions, but most places I’ve been to, and that, so that also gave me, and my business, [00:13:00] a real cultural grounding, which I think is very, very important. Actually as entrepreneurs develop their businesses, I think it’s really important to understand the culture of the place that you’re, you’re, you’re residing and really get into what makes it tick, what makes some people tick.
I used to go and buy Chinese music CDs and, uh, you know, I, I’d go to the theater. Um, Chinese opera is something, uh, crazy, crazy stuff, but, um, you know, pretty, pretty interesting. Um, Chinese art, artists, got a long history of, um, of watercolors, going to the museums, uh, all these sorts of things. It really helped me, uh, appreciate, uh, which again is important, but also understand.
The country that I had plans to make my business in on. I think that’s important that when you’re when you’re developing a company, particularly one that’s outside of your home country, that you really do immerse yourself in that country’s [00:14:00] culture history, because I think eventually it pays back and your understanding of how things work.
And that’s got to be good news. Any entrepreneur that wants to make success. of their company. So, so yeah, there was that immerse yourself in, um, in the country. If you’re working overseas, really, really get, get to grips with that. It certainly worked for me. I think that’s very
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: important. And I think I get a sense that you are more of, I mean, you’re definitely entrepreneurial, but I think maybe your personality type is you and I would, um, I would dare to say you’re more of an explorer kind of a personality.
At least that’s the sense that I get that. You like exploring, you, like immersing yourself and, and trying to learn. Not, and I would say not everybody is like that. And I think that’s part of the reason, you know, it probably you kept on getting fired as well. , but,
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: um, probably. Yeah. Yeah.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, I definitely [00:15:00] want to ask you more about China because, you know, China is such a, uh, has done such a tremendous job growing in the last 20 years or so, and then.
You know, now it’s, it’s, you know, almost on the verge of becoming the world power. So I definitely want to ask you more about China. But before I go there, I know you said that there’s an interesting story about the name of your company itself, Dizon, Shira Associates. Would you, would you mind sharing that story?
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: Yeah, my, my surname is Devonshire Ellis and, um, uh, I, I was seconded to do some work, uh, in, in China, uh, and, um, I was to be paid in, in China, uh, for my previous, uh, employer. So I went to China, uh, and after the set up a bank account in my name and after the first month, my Chinese employer hadn’t paid me and I didn’t really say very much because it was a bit embarrassing.
And then the second month, same thing. Third month, I hadn’t got paid and [00:16:00] I had run out of money. So I went to my. Boston said, look, here’s my Chinese bank account. Zero. Uh, where’s, where’s the money? Um, and they, they were terribly embarrassed. Um, and, uh, basically the mistake had been that, uh, the, the, the girl in the accounts department couldn’t spell my name.
She’d been trying to, uh, make payments to a Mr. Desan Shira. So, um, instead of Devonshire Ellis. First, and I got paid. They, they, they were very apologetic and took me out for dinner and I got all my pay and everything. So it was a legitimate mistake. But I, I thought that the name was actually kind of cool.
Um, and as it, so I named, when it came to, for me to set up my own company, I named it after the spelling mistake because, you know, law firms and accounting firms, they’ve got boring names, right? So they all name them, other companies, uh, firms after themselves and, uh, they’re, they’re all terribly boring.
Whereas I thought that DeSancheira. had a nice ring about it. And, um, as [00:17:00] it turns out that they are, they are real words. I didn’t know this, but Dizan, um, is, uh, is, uh, they’re both Sanskrit words, actually, the Indian, some Indian origins. A Dizan is a Tibetan, uh, word. It’s kind of a dwelling where you’d corral your goats and sheep up in the Tibetan mountains, uh, in the evening to protect them from wolves and that, that stone structure.
That’s a Dizan. Uh, Shira… is, is a type of Indian wild rice. Um, so, uh, in a, in a way the company’s name Decentra kind of translated sort of as house of rice, which in Asia is, uh, is really auspicious. Uh, and our internal company magazine is called the house of rice for that reason. Um, so it’s just as well that those words weren’t something rude.
Uh, I, um, that’s the name of the, that’s the name of the company. It, um, it was named after a misspelling of my surname. Uh, and, um, yeah, now it’s quite a, [00:18:00] uh, a well known, uh, brand. Certainly in Asia, we’re a well known company. So, um, so it worked. Uh, I think there’s other, other examples. Um, Adidas or Adidas. He was a real guy.
He was, uh, he was a Hungarian Olympiac. Olympic runner, I believe, and he named Adidas, which became Adidas. I think Haagen Dazs is also a made up name, the ice cream brand. I don’t think it means anything. They came up with something that was cool. So it’s possible to come up with something unique and kind of funky.
I don’t think there’s any reason to be afraid of that. It’s certainly a lot more fun than naming a business after yourself. That’s a bit egotistical, isn’t it? So Deez and Shira rather than. Devonshire Ellis, you know, cup. So that’s, that’s the story. Very,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: very interesting. Very interesting. So, um, I want to talk a little bit about your business and the services that you offer.
So, um, you know, you offer consulting services to, you know, [00:19:00] European or North American businesses that are, that are, that, that want to invest or do business in Asia. And I think there’s definitely a need for that because. I think there’s, you know, the way people do business in Asia, the laws and the, you know, the regulations, everything is so different.
And then you also mentioned there’s an aspect of the cultural, you know, how people do business. I think that that doesn’t translate very well as well. So can you share a little bit about, um, what kind of, Businesses you help and what are the services that you are that your business offers,
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: right? Well, we’re we’re a hybrid professional services firm.
So what does that mean? Um, it means that we, we, we assist companies with. Um, uh, let’s let’s do it in order and order of relevance with market intelligence. So if somebody wants to come to China or India or any of the ASEAN countries or in the Middle [00:20:00] East where we have operations in all of these countries now, um, then they might want to know what, you know, what, what the consumer tastes are, what particular market segments are.
And we have the business intelligence team that does that research. I’ll come onto this point a little bit. Later as well. So if you want advice or statistics on who’s buying what and where the consumer trends are, then we provide that as some companies can make up their own mind. We often get asked, you know, should, for example, should I be setting up my factory in Gujarat in India or should it be in Uh, uh, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, or should it be in Shenzhen or in China?
What are the differences? Um, and there are there are differences and they can be quite considerable so that market intelligence we do that Then people will often come to us for the legal assistance in setting up important to get that right, especially in joint ventures, uh, because joint ventures by their nature, a lot, a lot of foreign investors come [00:21:00] thinking that, uh, American law and the joint venture will, uh, will dominate.
And of course, if it’s in India, then Indian law is going to dominate. So you need to have that sort of background. Um, so setting up the company, getting, getting it structurally right. And there are options as to how to do this, how you want to do things, whether you want to buy and sell, whether you just want to export, uh, whether you want to manufacture, whether you want to manufacture and export or manufacture and sell onto the domestic market.
All these are legally specific questions, which so working out what the, uh, what is the best way forward, the best legal structure is, is part of that. Then there is tax planning. Um, which, um, relates to, uh, issues such as double tax treaties and, uh, which can save, uh, uh, taxes, uh, reduce the tax burden, uh, free trade zones, economic zones, special economic zones, all these sorts of things can, uh, can save.
Businesses and reduce their reduce their tax liabilities. There is you such as [00:22:00] some sanctions in some case or tariffs in certain China. For example, it has encouraged industry list, which is extensive, actually, where if you’re in a particular industry, it encourage you. China encourages India does the same encourages investors to come into this sector that can also be regionalized, and that can provide significant benefits On the other hand, there’s areas where perhaps it’s not so welcome and there are tax disincentives to invest in this.
The United States has also put on tariffs against Chinese products coming back to the U. S. So all these sorts of questions need to be answered. On top of all of that, you’ve got the, um, the operational issues, um, If, for example, you’re selling food to China, uh, that’s got to go through all the health and security checks, um, same in ASEAN and India and everywhere else.
Labeling has got to be in local languages and compliant, um, uh, so all of the business [00:23:00] compliance issues, human resources is another one, uh, finding the right people. Um, if you want particular qualifications, finding out what the local equivalent of those are, um, language issues, um, you know, foreign investors invariably tend to speak English as the common language, but not everyone in India or China or ASEAN speaks English at all.
So how to how to deal with that. So these sorts of, um, operational, uh, issues, due diligence, an ongoing process to make sure you’re not being ripped off left, right, and center, kicking with tires to make sure that everything is working and nobody’s taking you for a ride. All these, uh, issues. We also do, um, uh, we’re not statutory audit.
The big four tend to take that work. We, we don’t do that, but we do do. audit compliance to help them get to that stage. So all of those issues, uh, are what we provide as a professional services firm. Um, and that’s, uh, that’s [00:24:00] right from very small startups. Um, you know, 32 years ago, um, uh, some, some of the people that came through our door that were just starting up a business are now billionaires.
Uh, so, you know, with, uh, with, with helped a lot of companies grow and develop. Um, so that’s a professional services firm. I also have another business called Asia Briefing. AsiaBreathing. com, which is a publications company. It’s a separate company. We have about 20 million readers for that. Uh, and that does the same thing.
It provides all the boring legal regulatory and other issues that businesses need to know to, uh, to, to operate in a, in a country. And, uh, AsiaBreathing, which includes IndiaBreathing, ChinaBreathing, ASEANBreathing, VietnamBreathing. And all these other different ones, Middle East briefing, uh, that, that focuses on all those, um, fairly dry topics.
Uh, but the, the, the genius behind it, if you like, is that as a, as, as a [00:25:00] professional firm, we make that, we make that pretty much available for free. So it’s our marketing. Uh, and it’s, but it’s also a Asia briefing. What we do there is a real educational tool. Um, I think I must have written hundreds of university degrees of people out there over the years on the content of what we put out.
Uh, but, um, yeah, so that’s, that’s also impressive. So the publishing company supports the marketing for the firm, which is a fairly unique concept. Actually, a lot of businesses have problems with how to market themselves. And we were able to solve that and we control our own marketing as well, which is, uh, which is a good thing.
We can direct things in particular ways, uh, e commerce, and I’ve got a whole team doing that. And, uh, you know, how we originally started was putting out, um, leaflets, you know, printed off a photocopier. You know, all those over 2025 years ago. Now everything’s digital. We’ve got a whole team of people who, [00:26:00] frankly, whose jobs and careers didn’t exist when I set up the firm.
So they they look after all the e commerce, the social networking. The optimization, search engine optimization, all of those things are new jobs and new careers which have come into being since I started the firm, but we’re very active in it. And I think there’s also a lesson there because when you get to be a bit of an old fart like me at 63, you don’t really want to be in charge of everything.
You know, I may have a vision for the company, but I think a common mistake is for self made business people who set up their own company to want to be involved in everything. And frankly, the speed of technology on what have you overtakes you. So there’s no point when you get older and even within your own company, you have to be able to step aside and let somebody younger.
more savvy, more in tune with what’s going on. Take on those roles, because if [00:27:00] you don’t do that, you’ll be stuck as an old mindset business. And I I think one of the smart things I did was to remove myself from decision making processes of things such as social media and SEO works and the whole online industry is stepping completely away from that and getting people in that did understand it and did know what they were doing instead of me pretending as a boss that I knew everything, whereas of course that’s not true.
So I think there’s a lesson there for the managers, particularly those. Would have had a long career within their own firms that you’ve got to be able to let go on getting smarter, younger professionals to take on the, uh, the the new technologies which are coming into and shaping businesses today. I think that’s very
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: important, you know, to be able to delegate and because nobody can know everything.
And I think as you’re growing, especially becoming bigger, I think that’s that’s a key skill. Um, I’m very curious to [00:28:00] know, do you have, um, You know, you’ve been in Asia for 30 plus years now, um, what trends, what, um, in your own practice, in your own business, what kind of things, uh, you see, do you see a lot of businesses from North America, Europe coming to Asia now, probably they do come to Asia for manufacturing, you know, getting products manufactured, but are they also coming to Asia to Sell their own products as well.
Um, or they’re coming there to invest. Like what? What are the big trends? But what are the big things that you see within your own client
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: base? Well, I well, first of all, what what gets reported in the in the global media, um, particularly the Western media is often is often not really correct. Um, there’s a lot of doom and gloom stories about China, for example.
Uh, and, um, uh, [00:29:00] you know, it’s difficult to do business there, and, uh, China is, uh, the economy is, uh, is stalling. You know, economies always go up and down. And sometimes politicians like to point fingers at other countries and say, Look, those guys are doing really badly to, um, to cover up the fact that their own economies are actually going down the toilet.
And I think Europe, which is having a pretty rough time, um, of the United States economy is not brilliant. Um, you know, but the Chinese economy and the Western media are all saying, Oh, it’s terrible. Actually, it’s got GDP growth rate of about five and a half percent, and the US is doing 2%. So, you know, don’t don’t always pay attention to the to the foreign.
The international media when it comes to these countries, uh, we’re busier. You know, we help foreign investors come into Asia. Now, China’s the one that people like to talk about because it’s the largest, one of the largest economies. Uh, but, um, we’re busier in terms of handling foreign investors into China than we’ve ever been.
[00:30:00] Uh, so, you know, make no bones about it, but there are there what has changed is what they so, you know, for example, I remember people, American businessmen coming over to China and saying, you know, it’s a country of a billion consumers. We can sell all this US made stuff to China on that. Well, that was a pretty naive.
Uh, and of course, so they were manufacturing, um, to, to, to gain access to the China market. I’ll come on to this point in a second, but they are also manufacturing frankly, to take advantage of China’s cheap labor. Um, so they were manufacturing in China cause it was more cost effective to do it there and then export it back to the United States, uh, instead of making it in, uh, in, in the U S.
So, um, this started off with auto components. big business. So you had all the big brands, Ford and GM, um, uh, and it’s an American car, right? But actually it’s full of Chinese made components. Um, [00:31:00] so that, um, that started, uh, and then, uh, ultimately, uh, the Chinese components got so big. It started damaging the American industry.
So that’s when they started putting tariffs and to prevent that happening and to to encourage American export manufacturers to move their factories outside of China. And they did that by putting up the tariff, the import rates in the states for Chinese goods that they wanted to not allow China to have such a large share of that.
So those companies started to relocate to China plus one, uh, Vietnam, China plus two, which includes India plus three, some of the ASEAN countries, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia. So that started to happen. But China is still a huge consumer market, and over the 30 odd years I’ve been there, it’s, um, it’s really come up from a country whereby, um, everyone used to, uh, drive around in [00:32:00] bicycles, to now they’re, um, now they’re manufacturing the iPhone 5, and, uh, they’ve got electric vehicles.
Their EV market is amongst the most sophisticated in the world. Um, Tesla. Models are made in Shanghai. You know, my staff in Shanghai office, they drive, they buy Tesla cars. Um, so just on that, that’s changing the way which buildings are constructed because when you’re putting in new office blocks, uh, the garage parking downstairs as people drive to work, they’ve got to have EV charges in them so that people can charge their cars while they’re sitting at the desk and working.
So it’s even changing how the construction industry works in China. Um, so all of these things that happen now, the Chinese consumer market, yeah. It’s got a total population of about 1. 3 billion, about, um, about 400 million of those, a population larger than the entire United States, is now to middle class standards.
And the, uh, the CPC, the Chinese Communist Party, uh, secretariat, they, um, they’ve [00:33:00] got plans to, um, To basically more than double that over the next 2025 years. So that means that somewhere in the region of about 2040, there should be around about 900 million Chinese consumers in China. to middle class standards.
Now that, frankly, is a fantastic opportunity to make stuff and sell to the Chinese consumers, and also make in your own country, the States, Europe, wherever you are, do your research, do your market intelligence, and see what the Chinese want to buy. Um, the tastes are changing. I remember the Chinese, um, Chinese dinners, and, um, the alcohol which would be consumed would be, um, expensive cognacs.
Um, but within 10 years, they were drinking wines. Uh, so, you know, the consumer tastes are changing. What the Chinese actually consume, both on a [00:34:00] technological perspective and also from a cultural perspective, are changing. Um, the Chinese population is also at the same time aging. It’s, um, middle class population is getting more savvy.
They aspire to things that we have in the West. So, issues such as, uh, elderly health care. growth market in China, wellness, growth market in China, um, other aspects such as adventure tourism. Camping out, these sorts of things which used to be looked down on and now it’s going to have big deals in China.
Cosmetic surgery, all these sorts of things, particularly health care is a major growth industry. Education, there’s, you know, food supplements for kids. All these sorts of things are a healthy lifestyle. That’s all starting to take a hold in China. So when you look at where China is, You know, a middle class of about 400 million.
They’re going to owe more [00:35:00] than the plans are for them to double that by 2040. So there’s the opportunity. Um, the, um, you know, you’ve got 900 million Chinese that want to buy stuff. Um, and, uh, I think that’s a fantastic, Opportunity and really instead of, instead of just reading the daily newspapers and saying the Chinese economy is stuttering and it’s not doing so great, you’ve gotta look to the, the future, what the demographics tell us.
And the Chinese study this scientifically, um, the tho those are the answers. This is real. So they’re the opportunities. Um, and it’s not just China. It’s Asia. Overall, it includes India. The Indian growth demographics are also extraordinary. India’s also got a significant middle class, which is going to develop as has ASEAN.
So, um, so all of the Asian markets, I think Asia overtook the, uh, The West in terms of absolute wealth. Um, just about 18 months ago, there’s more money now in the East than there is in the West. So that’s the [00:36:00] opportunity. And people should really be looking at that. I mean, that’s, I
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: think, overall, it’s a great positive story, it almost seems like, you know, uh, the world population slowly is coming out of poverty and, uh, quality of life of everybody is kind of increasing.
Um, but that may also mean that in the future, you know, the reason why companies used to go to China for manufacturing, especially because the labor cost was low, was slowly You know, that that will start to go away because people, you know, as they’re coming into middle class, they would want higher pay, they would not settle for those, you know, poor, uh, factory
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: jobs.
Exactly. So where where’s that going? So we’ve we’ve discussed China, India and Asia as being growing middle class populations. But where can you manufacture on an inexpensive basis and compete and bring that so to bring the price levels down? [00:37:00] Well, there are still parts of Asia, which are which are relatively undeveloped, including parts of India still got a lot of growth to go through.
Pakistan, other areas of other areas of Asia. But also I see, um, you know, Africa is starting to make some real splashes. There’s already some movement of Asian manufacturing going to African nations. And I think that’s going to be the story from about what’s starting today. Actually, I think if I had my career now, I’d probably head over to Nairobi.
Um, but that’s for somebody else to do. Um, but I think the the low cost manufacturing base that’s going to be very much in Africa, the African continental free trade agreement, which reduces tariffs. On, uh, on on a pan continental basis has come into effect and will continue to be effective and increasingly.
So over the coming years, um, African infrastructure is [00:38:00] improving again with the help of China’s Belt and Road, uh, uh, initiative. Um, so that continent, I think, is where the world is going to be looking towards. It’s, um, it’s low cost manufacturing to help keep those productive. Production costs down, whereas the the consumer market growth is going to be in in Asia.
So that’s that’s the balance. And to some extent, I think the production also in Latin America is also a low cost country, although I think it’s also poised for fairly rapid growth. The economists of Brazil and Argentina, once they sort themselves out, I think are going to be very, very promising. Yeah.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: I mean, I almost think that in the next, you know, people today kind of project or try to, um, uh, predict what the future is going to look like, you know, 20, 30, 50 years down the road. And, you know, everybody is in the, in the West is kind of scared that China is overtaking the West and, you know, [00:39:00] China is the next superpower and things like that.
But. I think the future may look very, very different that nobody has kind of, uh, imagined because number one, I think the biggest thing is the, uh, birth rate is going down. So who knows what, you know, what impact that’s going to have. And then AI, you know, advent of AI. So it’s, it’s kind of a, you know, future maybe may look very different and, and, you know, maybe, um, something that nobody has kind of imagined.
Like, do you ever think about. Um, what all these other trends that are kind of in the periphery, you know, low birthrate people are not, you know, staying married, uh, you know, the advent of A. I. And what what can be done with that? You know what impact is that going to have on the
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: world?
Well, I, you know, I’m, that’s, that’s kind of a little bit out of my [00:40:00] league, but in terms of what I see, uh, I think you’re right, that the, I think that the, one of the problems of the early, of the end of the last century, uh, from the 1970s, through the 80s, 90s and into the 2000s that the, um, the, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the violence of that, um, that that, uh, promised.
I think that that’s largely been, um, dealt with. There are still pockets of, um, uh, of this, but I think on the whole, I think the, the, the Muslim world has come together and has been able to, um, manage its way out of out of this problem. The radicalization is still still an issue. But it’s the lid, I think, has been put on top of that.
And I think countries are very serious about about keeping it that way. Saudi Arabia is a is a major player. It’s often described as being, um, uh, quite a harsh [00:41:00] regime. But if you look at the Saudi vision 2030, that’s an extraordinary document of how the country is going to open up, um, uh, liberalize and the signs are that that’s already happening.
So I think that a liberalization of, um, Islamic attitudes, uh, is, uh, is, is coming, uh, they, they, they tend to have more children. So, uh, the, the integration of the Islamic world into the West, which is going to be bumpy. That is already occurring. I see that as um, uh, as a, as a, as a positive thing, you know, we should be living in a global community and there’s no reason for people to be picking fights just because of religions or color.
And I think that there are, um, There are signs that we’re actually getting towards that, um, uh, that, uh, ethnic, uh, uh, utopia to some degree. There will always be people who want to stir up hatred, but I think we are moving in terms of religion and, uh, race to, uh, to, uh, to a more equal and just [00:42:00] society.
That’s, that’s got to be good. Um, so populations, uh, are rapidly increasing in, uh, in the Muslim world, uh, and, uh, also in Africa. So, um. You know, that is going to have an impact, uh, and, uh, quite how that, uh, works out. Um, uh, I guess we’ll see in, in, in the West, more Muslims and, um, Africans. And that’s got to be, that’s got to be a, a, a great, uh, thing.
Uh, let, let’s go for this, um, global, uh, community. So hopefully that is what’s going to, going to happen, uh, and the, uh, the bigotry, uh, is going to, uh, is going to start to be overcome or is being overcome. I, I, I can see that. So, hopefully, we’re looking towards a more peaceful and just society, global society.
For sure. Can you
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: briefly talk about your management style? I mean, you have, um, your business has offices and you said 40 plus, uh, uh, locations, and it seems like it’s a distributed [00:43:00] team. How do you keep a tab on everything? I know you mentioned, you know, you are great at delegation. So you’re having other people manage parts of your business.
Um, how much time do you spend every day now? Uh, kind of The day to day management of your business versus you are kind of more like uh looking at the high level numbers and and really Having your team do most of the management
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: activities. Well, I would describe myself as a, uh, an autocratic or a benign dictator.
Um, that’s, uh, that’s, uh, this, this is how it works. So I’m, I’m the chairman of the company. I’m not the managing partner or managing director. But I’m also the the largest shareholder. Now, I think the way that the way I’ve been able to make it work for me is that we have a very small board. Um, there’s just [00:44:00] four of us, including me.
Uh, and, um, uh, that means that if decisions are taken, only four people are involved. Uh, we’ve all worked together for many years, over 20 or up to 20, between 20 to 25 years. These people have worked with me, so we have a very strong relationship. So the when it comes to making decisions or budgeting or discussing the business direction, we tend to we tend to agree on on the rare occasions when that when when that isn’t the case.
Usually that means that we haven’t understood the core issue of whatever the subject is. So we have to go away again and think about it and do a bit more research and then bring it back to board and then make a decision. And then if, um, if we can’t agree then, then I will step in and I’ll make the call.
Um, so, you know, that, that’s how it works. In terms of, um, in terms of the core decision making, so [00:45:00] keeping your board small, I, I cannot imagine, uh, having a board of directors of 30, 40 people, it’d be like, you know, cats in a box, goodness me, uh, it’d be appalling. So, four people, um, with, um, with me as the, uh, Ubermeister.
Um, now, apart, apart from that, we’re in, we’re in many different countries, we’re a multinational. And we give people responsibilities. So they have to, um, we have country managers in place, uh, and they have to perform, uh, um, and we choose. Asia is, is, is if you like a young person’s country, it’s very dynamic.
You need to have a lot of energy. So we, uh, we bring in people that are, are quite young and, um, if they’ve got the right attributes and we, we trust them, then we will promote them. Uh, and um, we have, uh, we have people in, uh, early thirties that are at, uh, are at director level. Um, running operations, we support them, uh, and, [00:46:00] uh, you know, the generally that, uh, you’ve had pretty well, almost always that works out well.
The only problem we have is, uh, is that as a smaller firm is that, uh, the bigger firms steal our staff, stop it, big firms. Uh, so we have a lot of headhunters looking at our staff and, um, that annoys me, but, um, yeah. So, but we have to. constantly recruit and train up and give them a lot of love. We’re, um, I think there’s two ways essentially to answer your question, perhaps in a, in a little bit more esoteric manner.
It says two ways to manage your business. You can do it out of fear and insist people come on to work on time. You’re late again, if it happens again, and do all this terrible stuff. You know, don’t spend money on the offices and, you know, just beat up people and be constantly on their backs. You can make a business like that.
You can run the company on fear. But I think when you, when you think of businesses, it’s good to look at what the word company actually means. And it means, [00:47:00] you know, a group of people with a common objective working together to achieve that. And I think the easiest way to do that is to run a company on love.
Uh, so, you know, be nice to you, to your staff. If somebody comes in late. What’s the underlying reason? And often you find that they may have a personal problem. Um, their, their mother is sick or their kid’s sick or there’s some other issue. Uh, then unless you sit down and say, look, you’ve come in late a few times, you know, you can’t continue to do that because unfair to the other stuff.
But what’s the problem? Uh, and, uh, being open and finding out what the problems are with staff. It’s a good way of dealing with it. So run the company on love, invest in the staff, invest in the offices. We have artwork in our offices. We have cool furniture. We’ve got paintings all over the place. We’ve got lots and lots of plants.
It’s green. It’s a nice environment. People actually enjoy coming to work in our offices. offices every month, [00:48:00] all of our offices and there’s 40 plus of them. We have a cake time, whereas that particular office celebrates birthdays, uh, um, other, other things, um, staff getting married, uh, all sorts of things, uh, being doing a lot of tax and accounting work, about 70.
The sense of our staff are women and you know, they’re pretty attractive. So they’re always getting pregnant. So about 10 percent of my staff, any one time I’m pregnant. So we have a lot of baby showers and things like that. And you know, there’s maternity leave. But, um, you know, when, when new mothers, um, come into the office with their new baby, that’s, that’s a fantastic thing, you know?
Mm-hmm. It’s, uh, it’s decent Sure of gen second generation. So all of these things, you know, run the company on love, make them feel like a, a part of a team. We, we pay them to go on motivational trips. We, all of the offices also, all of them, all go on an annual trip once a year. [00:49:00] My India office in, um, in March.
Um, they went to Shimla up in the Indian Himalaya while I was on that trip and it was, I’ll tell you what, it was brilliant, absolutely fantastic, breathtaking. So the company pays that sort of thing and it helps with team building and we give them a break and, you know, it brings people closer together and it really makes the company, you know, you have company.
So, um, and if, um, if you can get on with your employees. and foster that, uh, corporate environment, then that becomes part of the company DNA. And it’s very, very important. We have to compete with, um, uh, with people wanting to offer more salary than we can afford to pay our staff and, uh, and with bigger names than we are.
But, you know, we also have quite a surprising a lot of loyalty. Not everybody will leave our company just to go to one of a big four at a, you know, 25 30 percent more. Sometimes they prefer to stay with us where they know they’ve got a good secure job and that the working environment is, um, [00:50:00] is better and more healthy.
So, um, so that’s how we deal with it. Run your businesses on love. In a please. Yeah. Yeah,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: definitely. Yeah. I think people, people, a lot of people would stay in a company because the culture is great, even if the pay is not, uh, you know, uh, is a little bit less, I think. Uh, now we’re going to move on to our rapid fire segment.
In this segment I’m going to ask you a few quick questions and you have to answer them maybe in a, a couple of words or a sentence or so. Alright. Uh, one book recommendation for entrepreneurs or business professionals and why.
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: I never read self help books. Okay. Um, and I don’t read business books. Oh, you don’t, okay.
Have you read any, Will? This is, uh, This is The Moonstone Legacy by, uh, Diana de Gunzburg. friend of mine and uh, current reading, Jim Zimmon, James Zimmon, Peking Express. [00:51:00] I don’t read business books. I, I, I think it’s better to not be business 200 percent of the time. You need freedom. Read a good novel, read something else, you know, relax.
That helps you unwind from business, gets your mind free. and allows you to be creative. So forget about reading self help or business books written by somebody else, you know, you already know what you’re doing, uh, I think is the message and relax, listen to music, read a novel. It frees your mind up to be creative, which is an SME.
An entrepreneur, people need to be creative. So give yourself the time to do that. So yeah, no self help books is the answer to that question. Great advice. Um, and you know, more than two sentences,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: innovative product or idea that you currently feel excited about.
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: Yeah, it’s, it’s a bit more intangible this, but, um, I think the development of, uh, of things such as the, uh, international North [00:52:00] South transportation corridor. Uh, and the, uh, the routes, um, from, uh, from east to west, new routes, such as the, the G20 recently proposed, uh, in India, Middle East, Saudi to Europe route.
I think that’s all, uh, all quite interesting. These, these great initiatives, including the BRI, I know that gets slagged off in the international media, but anything that actually connects Communities, um, you know, businessmen, I do, although, you know, get involved in the legal and tax aspects that we’re all really about business and trade.
So I’m, I’m interested in most supply chain developments, uh, and I think with, um, the, the, the aspects of global warming, I think there are opportunities within that, um, although some of the, the, the effects of, of that have also got to be measured. So I think that, um, yeah, the transportation corridors, infrastructure developments were kind of what turned me on.
Thank you. So, okay.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, I know you mentioned, uh, uh, you know, uh, doing other things for creativity, but do you [00:53:00] have any other, uh, business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend or a productivity tip?
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: Um, frankly, uh, and the reason is I, we discussed it earlier. Uh, I’m an old fart, uh, and I don’t understand any of those things when I set up my business. Uh, you know, we, we would send contracts via fax. So I certainly didn’t have anything like that. So when it comes to apps and all that kind of stuff You know and SEO and all that software I’ve got an entire IT department that do that and they’re much smarter than me So maybe you should ask them that question or I’ll get one.
Yeah, I interview one of those guys. They can answer that I’m I’m the old fart that doesn’t know how to do anything and I still only really use my fantastic iPhone as a phone, you know, a bit boring really, you know, retarded. Let all the smart people do all that kind of stuff. The only app I’d recommend is, I like the Night Sky.
[00:54:00] Um, that’s an app that shows all the stars and planets. That’s cool, but that’s not business related. But it does, you know, get me out in the garden in the evening and marvel at the greater universe. That’s that’s the answer. I’m not going to answer and I’m too old. Yeah, no, I think if you don’t understand it, somebody else could do it.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: No, night sky is good. It’s uh, yeah, you know, it helps you relax and that’s great. Yeah. I’m a peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you.
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: A lot of people inspire me. Um, uh, and, uh, I think his size got older. The people that inspire me, I think, are the people that get involved with charities and have got a good life balance.
There’s a lot of bigotry out there. A lot of people are really only interested in money and that’s the only thing they’re really [00:55:00] concerned about. I think that’s shallow and a waste of a life, frankly. So people that inspire me are, um… I get involved with people and in charity, there’s charity functions and I think that devoting part of your life to the service of others is a really rewarding thing.
So everyone that’s properly involved with that. Just on the charity aspect, by the way, I tend to pick charities who… The bulk of the money, which, um, ascend is, is, is used on, on the ground. I’m, I’m not into supporting charities where 90% of that money goes into their operating costs. Uh, I like to get involved on the ground, so people that do that kind of stuff.
Very diverse charities, um, save the Children, uh, building, uh, hospitals in Africa, uh, uh, protection of Tibetan monuments. Um, uh, music or new new composers. I get involved in a lot of things. So those people, [00:56:00] people are involved with that. They inspire me. I tend not to hang out actually with other businessmen because all they kind of want to do is compete.
And I’ve got this car and you’ve got that car and I’ve got this and I’ve got that. And frankly, I mean, come on, you know, so I prefer to have conversations with more. Interesting people that have got a diverse set of, um, background that those are the sorts of people who I get inspired by, um, not the people who, um, carp on about their own success.
I know a guy in Estonia and he’s got 21 Ferraris. Why? You know, crazy. So, you know, that’s not inspiring. So the person that’s spending their time, uh, digging wells in Africa. That’s inspiring. Yeah. For sure.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Final question. Uh, best business advice you ever received or you would give to entrepreneurs? I know you get, you gave a lot of great advice, but is there anything, any [00:57:00] last parting word, any big, uh, advice that you would want to share with entrepreneurs?
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: I think I’ve got two. Um, one is if you, if you think it’s right, it probably is. So don’t listen to anyone else. If you think you’re right, that’s all that matters. Don’t be put off. There’s plenty of people out there. You can’t do this, you can’t do that. Shut up, you know. If you think you’re right, go for it.
Don’t be afraid of failing. Um, um, actually I’m going to give you three pieces of advice. If you fail, and I failed many times, so we worked hard to get a particular project in, uh, and somebody else beat us. What I used to do, um, and still sometimes do, is take our staff to, um, uh, out for dinner, um, and we’d, uh, we’d have a nice time and, uh, we’d celebrate the failure.
But during that, and we’d have some drinks and we’d look at the, we’d discuss the whole thing to try and work out what we could have done better, but do it in nice. Um, a nice environment, not be [00:58:00] upset or, um, but do it. So, okay, we lost it, but we were in the game. We nearly won. We came second. We didn’t get the project.
Um, we didn’t get the client, but, um, let’s have a nice dinner because we can learn something from that experience. So I think celebrating your failures is, is a very productive way. of analyzing what you could have done better. And sometimes there were things which, um, uh, I didn’t realize were wrong. You know, I remember we, um, uh, at one point we had a pretty, pretty terrible website and, uh, you know, that was deemed to be a factor in how the company presented itself was, was a factor in determining the business went to a competing firm rather than us.
So celebrate your failures and, um, and discuss them. And I think the third piece of advice, which is difficult to do. But, um, and requires patience is don’t borrow money. If you can, if you can keep the banks out of your business, it’s called bulkhead financing. Don’t let them in, um, try [00:59:00] and do as much as you can yourself.
And, um, if that means going without a car, um, I, when I first started my business, one of the first things I wanted to do was get a nice car, but, um, I couldn’t really afford to have the car that I wanted. And competitors came and went and they bought themselves nice cars and what have you, um, 32 years later, I still don’t have a car, don’t have a secretary either.
So, um, you know, do as much as you can yourself, you can do with that, don’t borrow money as soon as you do. Somebody else is involved in your business and, uh, they, they have an impact on that. They can make your business do things that you don’t want them to do. So try and keep people out of your business, bulkhead financing.
Do work as hard as you can, do as much as you can, and always be prepared to look at your competitors, work out how you can do better than they can. What does your competitors do? Look at them. How can I [01:00:00] do better? Um, you know, I once rang up a competitor at five o’clock in the afternoon, and the phone just, just to see what would happen.
And the phone just rang and rang and rang and rang and ran. You know, there was no answer phone, there was no nothing else. And I thought. You know, I’m going to stay here in my office until six o’clock and do this. And I also bought an answer phone machine for when I had to go home and all these kinds of stuff.
So little things like that, but definitely don’t borrow any money. Um, bulkhead financing. It means it takes a longer period to build up the cashflow strength. So before you can start to say dividends out, but you know, when, when it’s your own money. You can also make decisions, uh, faster. It makes you more flexible.
Um, you know, we decided, um, to, to set up an office, uh, in the Middle East, in Dubai, um, uh, last year, and in six months, we had it. You know, I think if I’d been in an MNC, that would have been a long, drawn out decision, but we, we, there were just four of us making that capital decision, and we, we went and [01:01:00] actioned it.
And now that office is, um, 18 months later, is, uh, is, is turning over, it will reach We’ll have a return on that investment in about another 18 months, which is very fast. Part of the reason for that is because we didn’t borrow any money. We don’t have to go to the bank and say, we don’t want to do this.
Can you give us something? It’s our own money. And, um, we are flexible and able to take, take, uh, take control of our destiny. So those are the issues. Um, if you think it’s right, do it, um, celebrate your failures because they will be learned from them and, uh, try and keep other people out of your business.
And that’s it.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah, those are those are really, really great advice, I think, in general. So for sure. Thank you. Thank you so much, Chris, for sharing those. And, um, I’m going to wrap up the interview now. We’re over time. And so I want to thank you again, Chris, for, for your time, uh, joining us today from Sri Lanka.
I know it’s a late night, probably there. Um, and thanks for sharing your very inspiring [01:02:00] story. And. Um, and, uh, sharing all the business advice and learnings for, for, from, you know, last 30 years plus of your business experience. So thank you so much again for coming to Detriptalks and really appreciate you and wish you all the very best.
Chris Devonshire Ellis Dezan Shira and Associates: You’re welcome. If people want to reach out, they can, uh, it’s easy to find me. So I’m happy to answer any questions people may have. And as for the time, it’s 6. 30 here in the evening, and I’m going to go and cook myself some dinner. Thank you for having me.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.
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