BUSINESS CLASS: Write all about it

This week our travels take us to the US to check out Hank Paulson's new book about bird watching (and that GFC thing), to debt-ridden Greece to meet some angry farmers and to Hong Kong, where the battle over a tycoon's will has turned truly bizarre.

There are many different ways to get over the trauma of a financial crisis, but by far the most popular for those most deeply embedded in the drama has been to get it off your chest and onto the pages of a book. Memoir, inside story, explainer, inside story, big giant 'I told you so', inside story, blow-by-blow account, outside story; it doesn't matter, just spew it all out, feel better and move on. That is certainly what former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has attempted to do with his latest tome, On the Brink, which hit the shelves of America's book stores this week.

Coinciding nicely with his first appearance before the FCIC – and following much the same theme of innocent incredulity – Hank's book (and the accompanying round of promotional appearances) has received some unsurprisingly harsh reviews and even a few helpful suggestions for a more apt title – "Hank Paulson's Dry Heave"; "Saving my legacy"; and The Day I Threatened To Break Ken Lewis’s Legs, were some we liked. Here is some of what's being said about what's between the covers:

"It’s not clear what Mr Paulson was angling for when he decided to publish a 477-page autobiography. If he wanted to burnish a legacy, to get himself removed from the list of the crisis’ great villains (he’s No. 6 on Time’s), it didn’t work. The phrase 'we had little choice' is actually the best he can come up with to justify the bailouts. And he couldn’t have wanted to simply provide a good inside look at his life and times, because On the Brink is a portrait of the bureaucrat as a nauseous and drowsy man." – Max Abelson, The New York Observer.

"I think he is writing the book out of insecurity to salvage his legacy. ...Make no mistake about it, Henry Merritt Paulson was the man that pulled the trigger that launched a bullet into the forehead of Lehman Brothers at Point Blank Range. It was the decision that obliterated the world's economy. ... (And) only 9 pages ...devoted to his time at Goldman. Come on Hank!" – Fellow GFC author Larry McDonald, in a letter published on the New York Post.

And finally, from Bess Levin at DealBreaker, a telling excerpt from the book that shows just how deeply the global financial meltdown affected Paulson's other life:

"That evening Wendy and I went to the National Geographic Society to see The Lord God Bird, a terrific documentary on the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird so spectacular it made people say Lord God!! Normally, I would have enjoyed this immensely, but I was preoccupied with Bear Stearns. Every time one of our friends from the environmental community came over, I would look right through them. Wendy got really upset with me. 'I understand that you’re under pressure,' she said, 'but that’s no excuse for not being courteous to people.' 'I am being courteous to everyone,' I protested. 'You aren’t saying anything to them except "Hi".' I apologised, adding, 'I’m worried about the world falling apart!'"

There's no "I" in "Europe"

Thank goodness for Greece. That is what the bankers, the Western administrations and China must be saying this week as Greece cements itself as the world economy's new public enemy number one. It seems Greece is in quite a measure of financial bother. The kind of bother, that is, that threatens to hobble its economy for years, to drag other EMU nations down with it, to derail what little stability has been regained in financial markets around the world, to make a mockery of the Euro and all those nations who signed up to it (oh alright then, Britain – as well as "underlining the wisdom of successive British governments in staying outside.") and to transform the EU into a "bitchy introvert". Not to mention it will seriously test the mettle of Greek prime minister George Papandreou and his finance minister George Papaconstantinou, who "arrived to a Treasury trashed by his predecessor’s orgy of unfunded spending and unearthed unpaid bills in the billions of euros," says the Financial Times.

But while this complex economic tragedy unfolds, troubles of a different sort are brewing in the Hellenic Republic. "It is a rite of winter: Just before seeding time, farmers drive their tractors onto the nation’s highways and drag the country into their belligerent struggle for survival," says Kathimerini. It seems Greece has it's own "too big to fail" conundrum, but instead of banks, we're talking the country's system of votes-for-farm-subsidies. The heart of the problem is that Greece's farmers have been "pampered and pandered to ...such an extent that they cannot survive without forcing governments – and the rest of the population – to keep acceding to their demands for assistance."

Because of this blockade, Bulgaria claims to have lost hundreds of millions of euros in trade and Greek businesses say they are losing about 25 million euros per day. Needless to say, now is not the time for the misplacement of euros of any sort. Nor is it the time to be demanding money from a government that is expected "to submit a detailed timeline for its budget cuts in March and deliver a progress report to the European Commission in May," according to Parmy Olson in Forbes.

No, indeed. The fact is, says Kathimerini, that "staring down the farmers would be the simplest, cheapest way to prove to Greece and the world that this government really does intend to get the country onto its feet." So hop to it, Papandreou – go solve all of Greece's problems all at once.

Bad qi

Most of the time here at Business Class, we are looking for the off-the-wall twist in the straight business world. But when it comes to the tale of billionaire Hong Kong tycoon Nina "Little Sweetie" Wang, it's pretty much all twist, so we thought we'd try to tell it as straight as we can.

So here goes. Nina Wang was Asia’s richest woman (her net worth was estimated by Forbes at $4.2 billion) and head of Chinachem property group until her death, from ovarian cancer, in 2007. The apparently eccentric – after all, the woman "wore miniskirts and pigtails well into middle age", says Forbes – Hong Kong property queen inherited her fortune, and Chinachem, from her late husband Teddy Wang after winning a an epic court battle against her father-in-law, in which Wang's case rested on a handwritten will she alleged was penned and signed by Teddy in March 1990, a month before he was disappeared without a trace.

Before Teddy was kidnapped, however, Wang began a rather un-subtle 15-year affair with bartender/feng shui master Tony Chan, upon whom she "lavished... hundreds of millions ...to cure her cancer and improve her luck." And perhaps Chan did improve her luck, with Wang building up an impressive property portfolio. But he didn't cure her cancer. Not even with his $HK6,500 head rubs and full-body massages. Not even with his digging of 80-odd "good luck" feng shui "holes" all around Hong Kong.

So, when his "Little Sweetie" finally succumbed, aged 69, Chan did what any purveyor of good qi and married-father-of-three (one of whom is named Wealthee Chan) would do – he went to court to contest her will. And in a tip-o'-the-hat to his departed mistress, he went armed with a will dating from 2006, which he said overruled a will from 2002 that left her entire fortune to her charity, the ChinaChem foundation.

Instead, it seems Mr Chan dug himself a different kind of hole, with Justice Lam ruling this week that the 2006 will was a "forgery" and "not signed by Nina", who he ruled would not have left Chan the estate, "irrespective of her other commitments and responsibilities" and irrespective of the adorable nicknames Wang had for him, including "hubby", "hubbykins" and "hubby-pig".

Now, Wang is facing $HK300 million in tax and penalty charges, as well as criminal charges on suspicion of forgery and, we imagine, some serious interruptions to his qi flow. But then, according to another Feng shui master and astrologist, Edwin Ma, Chan's downfall was written all over his face. Particularly revealing, it seems, are his smallish, round "elephant eyes", which "indicate craftiness and a tendency towards greed."

So that's the story of Nina Wang, straight up, no flair added. A fascinating peek into the world of Hong Kong's rich and a definite contender for a future South Park episode.

Related Articles