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Thursday, January 9, 2014

"Tiger Woman on Wall Street" (Junheng Li)

TITLE: Tiger Woman on Wall Street: Winning Business Strategies from Shanghai to New York and Back
AUTHOR: Junheng Li
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2013, (256 pages).

This is an amazing biography and personal story of how Junheng Li struggled through the setbacks of China's Cultural Revolution in the 60s, brought up under a strict father, fought through multiple challenges in her growing up years, came to America to study, to work, and subsequently to make a huge impact on the investment industry, especially in the area of providing deeper insights about American strategies and Chinese peculiarities in social, political, economic, and other tangible relationships. Richly personal and highly informative, Li (known in the book as Junh) shares her journey from China to America, and how she gleans the best of Chinese discipline and diliegnet, and the American way of freedom and democracy. Positioning herself as a Wall Street strategist and investment analyst with feet on both Western and Eastern awareness, Li aims to use her own story to help business people (especially from the West) to do business in China.

Li brings to us an up-front-and-personal view of Wall Street and its day to day dealings, as well as an insightful and shrewd take on Shanghai and the culture in China. She highlights her early years of how her family survived China's modern but cruel "Cultural Revolution." She shares the roots of her tenacity that was developed since young, like having to up her TOEFL scores from 480 to 600 in three months. She reveals how her questioning of the norm sharpens her acumen for short-selling opportunities. At the same time, she candidly writes about her setbacks such as her dozing off when an important client was speaking as well as her failed marriage. Even her company, Aurarian, a small investment firm had to call it quits at the height of the 2009 financial crisis. Most fascinating of it all was her ability to understand the American mentality and ethical upbringing from a mainline Chinese point of view. She knows that there are many who are eager to invest in China. Yet, many of these investors are unable to understand the complexity of the Chinese markets. According to Li, the American model is one that assumes the market is "efficient" and many have unwittingly assumed that the Chinese market is similar. Li seeks to debunk this mistaken belief, arguing that when investing in China, it is critical for investors to know who and what they are investing in. By setting up her own firm (JL Warren), she has positioned herself as the expert in Sino-US investment analyses. 

So What?

Reading through the various investment snippets gives me an opportunity to refresh my own knowledge about investment, like short selling and long positions; hedge funds and IPOs; company management and stock health; and others. Li writes in such a compelling and honest manner that readers can feel as if they are there with Li. The captivating stories make for a very educational as well as entertaining read. That said, I do have some reservations about some of the conclusions Li had made. First, I think Li may have tried to make things far too black and white, like claiming the Chinese's upbringing is more "shame-based" while the Western model is more "guilt-based"; or Chinese system as "knowledge based" compared to the American system of "idea based." My question is "To what extent is this true? What about those who grow up with mixed parenting?"

Perhaps, as a mainline Chinese working and living the American Dream, Li has that uncanny ability to discern the differences much more than others. However, with rising immigration and globalization, plus inter-marriages and the the merging of cultures, the investment climate is getting more grey and complex. Second, this book is Li's personal story about her journey in the investment angle. Readers need to be careful not to extrapolate too much into the other parts of society, such as politics, social norms, or other cultural idiosyncrasies. There are a lot of things that readers can adopt in terms of questioning the herd mentality and the lack of discernment when investing in an unknown firm. At the same time, it is good to remember that it is just one view. It is not the only view. In a complex environment, there is no one-size-fits-all methodology. Third, the success of any venture is not solely an individual matter. We need communities of discernment. Even Li herself admits seeking out advice from older and more experienced individuals such as her previous mentor, Jason, and business friends like Peter Winn. In a hard-hitting world of business amid a very unforgiving Wall Street attitude toward losses, we all need friends and to learn to see life not just from a money or profits point of view. Seeing that Li's reputation as a "Tiger Woman on Wall Street" has also come at a steep personal price, it is a reminder for me that life is not just about making money or breeding successful endeavours one after another. There will come a time in which the more important things in life will become more significant.

Toward the end of the book, Li becomes more reconciliatry in her outlook of both the American and the Chinese cultures. The "discipline and perseverance" she learned from her Chinese parents and the "integrity and curiosity" she adopted from her American way of life has made her more equipped to deal with both. Keen readers will realize that Li is advocating for change for both sides, for diligence from all, to work together and to flourish together.

I warmly recommend this book for anyone interested in investment, especially those keen to learn and understand more about investing in companies with a Chinese background. Great read!

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of McGraw-Hill Professional and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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