When Communicating with Roberto about the China Opportunity I was told in no uncertain terms that no expense would be spared on this project. The Owner of the Company, Ms. Bai*, had accumulated enormous wealth through her several businesses. Even richer was her husband, the company’s Chairman, who was in negotiations to purchase a Taiwanese biomedical company for close to a Billion USD.
(*The Chinese probably aren’t reading this, their English names are selected and not direct translations, and I have nothing embarrassing to say about them so let’s just use the names I referred to them as.)
What made the story more intriguing was Ms. Bai’s passion for Chiropractic. An extremely hard worker who would sometimes put in 18+ hours a day she was starting to become overrun by blinding headaches. The headaches were preventing her from working, which was causing depression, and as she told it was making thoughts of suicide creep into her mind. She went to an American colleague of Roberto who was able to help her overcome her headaches and the thoughts of bringing Chiropractic to mainland China quickly replaced thoughts of Suicide.
Roberto’s colleague was not too keen on being involved with such an ambitious project, so she tapped Roberto to be her director of clinics. Roberto had previously worked in a high-volume clinic in Singapore and it’s model became the model for how “Chiro Care” would be run.
The model was ambitious marketing to get patients through the door, then x-rays and a tailored script memorized by all the doctors (and, perhaps most importantly, the staff) to try to sign patients up through a year of care.
The model in Singapore wanted the Doctors signing up 65% of the patients to care plans, and then the patients would see whichever doctor they preferred, so the job was more of a sales position. The doctors would be paid around a flat $90K USD with 2-3 days off. Without commissions the docs were relieved of the fears of poaching and just had to sign the patients up and adjust 80-100 patients per day they were in the clinic. I’m skeptical of this care in general but it appeared to work in Singapore.
Due to the Departure issues from Bali I didn’t arrive until early Saturday morning and was picked up by one of the general managers, Jacko. He took me to my apartment, part of my contract was the company would pay rent, and I familiarized myself with Beijing and even walked to the office so that I wouldn’t get lost on the 30-minute walk on Monday in the cold Beijing January’s.
On Monday getting lost wasn’t an issue as Jacko arranged to pick me up at my apartment and walk me to the office in the Downtown Financial District with some of the staff, and one of the Doctors, ‘Grumples”.
Grumples and I hit it off and talked the whole way into the office. Just before entering the office I asked him how busy we were to which he replied, “Oh we don’t have any patients.”
This was certainly an ominous sign for an Office which had been open for almost 3 months.
I walked in to the office and see how huge and well designed it was. The staff I was about to be introduced to were in perfect charcoal grey uniforms. I’m walking around and meet Roberto for the first time in person. He explains that they have had few patients but are confident that with proper marketing they will get busy. I ask about prices and packages and he says that the plan is to sell EVERYONE a 100-visit plan for about $15,000 USD, twice of what Singapore would cost and well above my expectations. Roberto shows me the expensive Practice Management software and I look at the 6 $8,000 a piece omni chiropractic tables. And this was just the Beijing Office. The Shanghai office, which I was supposed to be transferred to after a few months, was even bigger and more equipped. It was largely sitting empty, rent still being paid monthy, as Shanghai staff was flown up and given apartments for training purposes.
The staff that remained in Shanghai would have bouts of boredom broken when Ms. Bai would fly back from Taiwan and dump books she had purchased concerning Chiropractic with a request: “Translate this.”
As I came to see China believes that Money and Man power is the answer to everything.
I wander into Grumples office that was next to mine (Each Doctor had their own office) and within 2 hours of meeting me he is telling me how much he enjoys prostitutes in the Philippines. Being an easy-going guy, I initially figured that he just reached a level of comfort with me, but as I saw soon enough Grumples talks like this with everyone.
Grumples is your stereotypical 60-year-old American Mercedes 80’s refugee Chiro escaping to Asia from the West, after having practiced in Ohio and then the Shetland Islands before heading to Jakarta, Singapore and the Philippines. And had he found his dream Job. I was still trying to process this all, escaping Indonesia and entering the most expensive non-functioning Chiropractic office on the planet which had no signs of being profitable and Grumples says, out loud in front of the general managers with the conviction of a county clerk during a Lunch Break “We don’t have any patients. But it’s OK because we on Salary.”
Grumples came on board because Roberto was told to hire three more Chiropractors. I had committed in October, Kamikaze* was a Parker Classmate of Roberto who was recruited, and he needed another “white Face”. *Kamikaze is half Japanese and half Mexican (We collectively and hilariously struggled for a Nickname that bridged both heritages and wasn’t too racist) and Roberto had to fight to get him hired because he wasn’t Caucasian (I think he looks white). Roberto told me this after I attempted to get a friend who was fully Japanese hired.
Grumples shows up in an interview in Shanghai and he is pretty white. The staff would later tell me that they remember thinking that Roberto shouldn’t hire Grumples and were shocked when he did. They took this as a sign that Chiropractors weren’t serious Doctors, as Grumples, showing up with a pendulous abdomen and a hyper kyphosis in the Thoracics, did not look the part of a serious medical professional.
While the Chinese staff liked the hokey and jovial demeanor of Grumples, they had a saying for people like him, 为老不尊(wéi lǎo bù zhòng) which is a way of saying, in so many words “An Old Fool who hadn’t earned respect.”
Grumples seemed to work hard to earn this lack of respect through profound cultural ignorance. The Chinese, a polite and reserved people, are diligent workers.
Grumples day consisted of arriving just before check in time in the morning, bragging about how he synchronized his leaving the apartment to get there just in time, playing on Facebook and hovering around the Timeclock at night with his coat on ready to go while complaining “I don’t know why they make us wait till 6 when there’s nothing to do.”
I would pull Grumples aside and remind him of certain cultural sensitivities. He would say “Oh you’re right.” And a few minutes after return to autopilot.
One particular moment that stood out was when our assistant, Limo, walked into Grumples office to put some paperwork on his desk.
“Limo, come here…. This girl wants to spend the week with me.”
I’m sitting in my office and while my jaw hits the floor part of me thinks this denseness is hysterical. Limo is a VERY reserved married mother of two, and I’m imagining Grumples pointing at the picture on the 24 inch monitors we had of some Filipino girl outside a Nipa Hut.
“Dr. (Grumples) why don’t you find a Chinese girlfriend who is a little more mature?” Limo asked her voice quivering with embarrassment.
“No, No, No…I like Filipino Girls. Besides I like them young, after 25 they’re too old.”
Limo managed to extract herself from this awkward conversation. Grumples comes into my office and really nails home his denseness:
“Did you hear what Limo just said? She said I should get a Chinese Girlfriend my age.”
I’m staring at him blankly cause that not really what she said.
“I don’t think that’s any of her business.”
“Dude, it was her business when you pulled her back into the room to show her some girl in a village a 6-hour bus ride away from Clarke (Clarke Airport outside of Angeles City, a predominate Prostitution town 2 hours north of Manila). Come on man, tell me this shit on the weekend when we have Beers, don’t talk to the staff about this shit.”
“Oh”… he would say in his shocked voice. If only he walked around in perpetual fear of losing his dream job.
January went fairly quickly, and things wound down for Spring Festival, known colloquially as “Chinese New Year.” A one-week vacation looming decisions on Holiday destinations had to be made.
Grumples had selected the Philippines as his destination of Choice (again) as he had previously returned from a Visa run. We were expected to go to Hong Kong for Visa Runs which were cheap and paid by the company but Grumples decided to take a red eye to Manila, jump on a bus for a few hours, sleep with a girl who he met on Facebook for $50, and come back as quick as he left upset that the company wasn’t paying for his entire trip which would be twice as expensive as a HK trip.
“How come they paid for Kamikaze’s trip but not mine?”
“Trip? It’s a visa run, not a vacation, when you make it a Holiday, you pay yourself.”
I decided on Manila as well, having never been there before and having just gotten back from Bali, Vietnam, KL and Bangkok. When the Taxi driver took me from the airport he told me how much prostitutes cost in the wealthy section of Makati where I was staying. About $150. I couldn’t fathom where Grumples was getting his girls from.
“$25. $25! I got her for $25 dollars!” Grumples said waving his phone in front of me in my office upon my return. He excitedly showed me a skinny-fat Filipino girls Facebook profile loaded.
“Yeah I’ve had hotter and freer.” I wryly stated.
Grumples harrumphed as he went to the front desk and his mid-west draw carried through the office.
“This is my new girlfriend. I got a new girlfriend in the Philippines. I got bored of the last one so I got a new one. By the way I need one of you girls to take me to the bank today cause I have to transfer some money to her.”
The rest of February was Grumples Western Unioning money to his “Girlfriend”, Kamikaze and I figuring out the swiftest process for converting and sending our money back to the states and generally sitting around doing nothing. The last week of February brought the prospect of being busier as we were going to do a marketing event.
My hopes were quickly dashed as the marketing event consisted of handing out flyers to secretaries who couldn’t afford us outside our office. We did have 13 New Patients each, but it was a fool’s errand, as they were all free exams and treatments “won” at a lucky draw where everyone who entered won.
The normally reserved staff was getting more vocal with their impression of their Job.
One particular new patient I had made it clear from the start that she had no intention of going further than what was freely offered. Regardless I gave a serious and impassioned call for her to continue care, which she denied. Our assistant came up to me afterwards and he stated he felt bad for me because I had put my heart and soul into the consultation. In so many words he was saying “This business doesn’t work why are you trying so hard.” I chuckled and said that wasn’t for the patients benefit but for his benefit and the benefit of the staff who were amazed that this was an actual business. They accused me of exaggeration when I told them a few months earlier I was seeing hundreds a week, and that there were actual patients all over the world that utilized Chiropractic.
Two of our assistants said it best “I feel like we are all actors, and this is an expensive play.” This brought to mind Jaques words to Duke Senior in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
Early March brought tumult. Ms Bai stated that everyone, Doctors included, where going on a salary reduction in three months that would be recouped with performance bonuses. There was no way that these performance goals could be reached. We confronted Roberto about this, it was clear by this point that he was in way over his head, but while he said that we were “On our own” he sheepishly stated that he didn’t think they would go through with this policy. (He was right, they never went through with the policy.)
A Few days later we are told that there will be an inspection in the office in an hour. I was still on a tourist visa (again) and told Roberto, two months removed from the Indonesia fiasco, I was going home for the day. The Chinese staff told me it was OK to stay. As soon as the authorities got there I was told to hide in a back office. Another one of our GM’s, a lawyer whose family had Government connections, went out to talk to the police. I was provided unencouraging updates:
“They saw you, they asked who Professor Marc Tafuro is?” (That’s what the giant poster with my picture said).
“They said they know you are back here.”
Magically the police went away, and I could come out of hiding. I approached Roberto and told him if this happens again, I’m out.
Two days later on a Friday less than two hours from closing time we received “good news”. The next week were more Government inspections, no doubt triggered by my poster on the wall, so we had off. Well, not off per se more to the point, don’t show up. Not only were posters and diplomas coming off the wall but X-Ray view boxes as well.
“Can I go to the Philippines?” – Grumples asked Roberto.
Not possessing a US Credit Card Grumples scampered to the front desk for an assistant to buy him a ticket to Manila. He would go to the ATM to pay the assistant in cash.
As for me Bangkok and Hua Hin were in my future.
We returned and there was a whole lot more nothing to do. Kamikaze and I joked when we were going to have the Grand closing, complete with the taping up of the ribbon cutting from the Grand opening.
Ms. Bai was full steam ahead as she had a GM approach me and ask about furnishing for the Shanghai office. Between tables and laser machines they were spending a fortune.
Grumples and I would be sent to Shanghai for the Grand opening (Despite the clinic having already been open) for a particular Holiday which was considered Lucky.
We were leaving our relatively nice apartments in Beijing and I was morbidly curious what accommodations the company would provide for us in Shanghai,
“I think they are gonna have nice apartments for us, Because Ms. Bai and Mr. Bai* wouldn’t want to disappoint us.” Said Grumples concerning our future accommodations.
*“Mr. Bai”, Ms. Bai’s husband, is obviously not Mr. Bai as the Chinese names are surname first followed by given name and the wife doesn’t take the Husbands surname at marriage. But Grumples referred to Mr. Jiang as “Mr. Bai” constantly. We just thought Grumples was being Grumples but no, he ACTUALLY thought his Name was “Mr. Bai”. When we finally started to correct him, he referred to Mr. Jiang simply as “The Guy” and “Ms. Bai’s Husband” because he could pronounce “Mr. Jiang”.
“The apartments are Dumps” said Grumples upon first seeing our accommodations.
I was in a Porsche Cayenne being driven from Beijing to Shanghai when I got that message. Grumples was shocked, I wasn’t surprised, realizing that the gravy train wouldn’t last forever.
May through September were pretty much the same with one noticeable difference, Ms. Bai was gone. We were told she went to Australia to have a medical procedure done, yet her passport was in China. Considering she had used a fake name to secure a lease on our now 2ndoffice in Shanghai I was wondering how many passports she had.
The end of September brought a Bombshell. October 1 would be the national day Holiday and Grumples took a few extra days off to go to the Philippines (Duh) and Kamikaze was in Japan. Our former assistant in Beijing (Who hadn’t been with the company in months) messaged me to tell me that a meeting was going on at that moment in Beijing to discuss the dissolution of the company.
I’m messaging Kamikaze, who had already heard in Japan. I messaged Grumples, who would not answer for two days (Nipa hut cell coverage and all). Kamikaze messaged me to tell me that He messaged Roberto who had no idea that there was a meeting down the hallway on the other side of the office announcing the dissolution of the company. They didn’t invite the COO to the meeting. That’s how little they respected Roberto.
Just before getting on a flight before going to America Grumples messages me indignant that he would be out of a job. Indignation turns to thoughts of petty revenge as he messages me on the tail end of my trip to say that he will be the clinic director of a new clinic system in Guangzhou and that he won’t be hiring me. The new clinic system needs 10 Chiropractors, but I will not be one of the lucky docs because Dr. Big Shot wouldn’t hire me. We will return to this story line later.
I return from my trip and the Chairman informs me that he wants me to come up with an alternative business plan. While I was gone Grumples had begged the Chairman to keep his job and said he would come up with a business plan and would work really hard. The Chairman wanted to hear my ideas, despite having heard previously that “The American way does not work in China.”
I calmly pointed to the KFC across the street with a shit eating grin on my face.
“Looks like the colonel figured it out.”
Digging deeper I continued:
“I go to the mall and I see your fellow citizens fighting to get western goods.”
The people here are very stoic, and they rarely show emotion but as I continued, I perceptively noticed a grimace on his face as I prodded further.
“Your watch is Swiss, your shoes are Italian, your cars are German”… a frown started to emerge as I dug the shiv deeper.
“The only thing Chinese on you is your DNA.”
And yet he still wanted my ideas. I gave him some ideas and he put me in Grumples smaller now vacated office. Grumples was marooned in Manila.
I shit you not. After begging for his job to continue and saying he would come up with a business plan he was talking behind everyone’s back with a startup in Guangzhou. After shipping his shit to Guangzhou, he quits us with no notice. Doesn’t even collect a final paycheck. Heads to Manila to play big daddy clinic director when Guangzhou informs him that “The Investors backed out”, which is Chinese for “Thanks for letting us extract every bit of information needed to proceed in exchange for insincere flattery and promises we never intended on keeping.”
Grumples, shortly after informing me that he won’t hire me for his non-existent job calls me up begging me to go to his Bank in Shanghai to get his ATM card, which had just been declined in Manila, to be turned on. “Just pretend you’re me” he said expecting me to walk into a bank without the misfunctioning ATM card whose last attempted use in Manila under an hour ago and without showing ID. Guess who had to pay for Grumples flight and hotel to shanghai just to get the card reactivated.
With Grumples returning to the Philippines I take over his office and manage to sign up three people in a short timespan before the lights go out. Literally.
They stopped paying the electric and phone bill. My assistant quit. I literally would go to the office only when the lights can go on. The landlord next door comes over and puts a for rent sign on our door. I call up the Chairman and 10 minutes later the for-rent sign comes down. No one seems to care as they are still paying me every month. The lights and phone never go back on.
Kamikaze is in Beijing, with at least one assistant and the lights on.
The chairman comes over for a meeting and when the lights don’t go on, he says “Terrible”, as if he can’t believe that not paying the electric bill keeps the lights off.
This isn’t real. This can’t be real. This is a play. I’m only an actor. “All the world’s a stage…”
It was at this point I started talking with Mabuhay Chiropractic in the Philippines but meanwhile there were several Vacations to exploit. Chinese New Year was coming up again and it made sense to utilize vacation times for going back to work.
Just before Chinese New Year I’m watching an NFL playoff game early in a sports bar in Shanghai when Grumples walks through the door. I ask him what he is doing back in Shanghai and he tells me he is broke and:
“I need to see if I can get my final paycheck from the Guy.”
“Yeah the guy, Ms. Bai’s Husband.”
“Yeah the guy.”
Grumples had returned to Shanghai to see if he could collect his final $7000 that he walked out on when he thought he was going to be a clinic director in Guangzhou. He called Mr. Jiang begging for the money and Jiang demanded a face to face meeting in Shanghai, prompting Grumples to return from the Philippines which would take place in the afternoon.
Meanwhile I asked Grumples what happened with the Guangzhou Clinic and I received a clinic on how the Chinese operate.
They told him that they were going to start 10 clinics and they needed a smart man with his experience, as they had no idea what to do. They had talked with other candidates, but he was the best one. They were going to pay him $10K a month and get him an apartment with a car and driver.
I’m listening to the story and thinking “Nelly”, the Singaporean-Chinese man that Jason corrected me when I doubted his intelligence. So, this was what it looked like when you got taken in and rolled. They marked him, grabbed everything from him, Chirocare manuals and trainings, and unceremoniously dumped him. Must have been like taking candy from a baby.
I let him continue the story and asked him if this didn’t sound the least bit familiar over our past year experiences. He said he told them to start small. When I asked how they planned on paying him he said that they only needed 50 patients a week paying 500 RMB (Historically $75 USD a visit) and they would be happy. I did the math in my head and thought out loud:
“So they planned on your salary, before the apartment and car and driver, being 66% of overhead?”
This drew a blank stare.
“Did they plan on playing office rent and staff salaries?”
“They said they were gonna give me the money.” Grumples said having never had alarm bells going off in his head.
“No wonder the investors didn’t go through with the plans.” I said with a chuckle before sipping my beer.
I doubt there were any nameless, faceless investors that pulled out. They were just chumming the waters looking for fish to bite who they could extract info from.
If Grumples didn’t learn a lesson with dealing with the Chinese in Guangzhou he received one a few hours later with Mr. Jiang. After flying back to Shanghai Mr. Jiang was an hour late to the meeting, asked him why he deserved the money after walking out on the clinic, took a phone call for 30 minutes, then got off the phone to tell Grumples that he wasn’t going to pay him.
Grumples eventually said the Chairman paid him a few thousand. Whether that was an ego protecting lie or an uncharacteristic mercy I doubt a lesson was learned.
But don’t fuck over the Chinese and not expect them to extract their pound of flesh.
I continue on as I had for months and I resigned in April when Mabuhay offered their new clinic in Cebu which was opening in July/August of 2017.
Over two weeks after I resigned the chairman called me to tell me that we will have a meeting in our Minhang office and that he has “Good News”. The Minhang Office, my original office in Shanghai, has been empty since October and has a rent charge of $15,000 USD a month.
They have spent over $100K USD maintaining an empty office for a little over half a year. Must be nice to have that kind of “FU money” burning in the pockets.
I attended the meeting, one, to find out why the hell the Minhang office is still open (and might I add their internet worked). Two to find out what the “good news” could possibly be for an organization that has bleed cash since its inception.
The good news was they wanted to continue. I let them speak for an hour before I excused myself as I had to go to the other office to adjust patients and said we could continue the discussion at night.
The chairman said he would send me his driver to pick me up. I am driven to a residential district to a house that has to be worth several million dollars. They lead me into the dining room with a 14-person solid wood table imported from Brazil ($$$) where they serve me this tea from a 500-year-old tree. ($$$)
For perspective the tea leaves are Twice as old as America.
I resigned primarily to speed up the process of getting out of here. The Chinese have a concept of “saving face”, closing a business and firing an American Doctor, who you asked to come over here, is considered Bad Juju so I figured they would pay me into perpetuity if I didn’t resign.
I also figured that my resignation would be enthusiastically welcomed.
They asked me to stay on and work on hiring other Chiropractors. They asked me how much I wanted to stay:
“You can afford me, but you can’t justify me. You’ve paid me more than enough.”
I saw the look in her eyes, she really wanted this to work and she really wants me to stay. This isn’t about money. It is about Chiropractic.
I already promised The Philippines I’ll be there by July, yet I told them I would help them in any way possible, which is not the answer they wanted but is the only answer I can give.
We concluded them meeting on friendly terms and I noticed that as I was getting ready to leave so were they, from this beautiful house. I asked where they were going, and they said “Home.”
This Multi-Million dollar house, with the 500 year old tree tea and the big Brazilian wood table and the house staff was the house they used to entertain guests. They lived in a large apartment in the more central part of the city.
As I said “FU Money.”
And not even Fuck You money can buy success in Chiropractic.