And the worst thing: no-one gives a damn where you went to university

The ‘how to spend $2 million and still not get your kids into Harvard’ story will presumably be back at some stage. Looking at the complaint they filed, Gerald and Lily Chow seem to be claiming that education consultant Mark Zimny basically ripped them off (which for all I know is what ‘promissory estoppel’ means). It wasn’t that he failed to get our two kids into Harvard, they’re saying, but that he took our money on false pretenses.

Amazingly, to support their case, they present the court with consultancy IvyAdmit’s invoices (pages 4-38) for looking after the two kids while they were being educated in the US. Some of the items are unremarkable (fixing the plumbing in the rented home, for example). But the bulk of the bills are for – no other way to put it – doing the kids’ school work for them. Reading their assigned textbooks for them, and writing their essays for them. I can imagine the defendant producing these documents as a way to damage the plaintiffs’ characters, but they themselves are using the materials as evidence in their favour.

One of the kids was obviously being prepared for some sort of business course, studying (or ‘studying’, I should say) things like finance and leadership. Oh, and ethics. You couldn’t make this up. Sacha Baron Cohen is reportedly planning a movie on Hong Kong tycoon Cecil Chow offering HK$500 million for a guy to marry his gay daughter; he ought to combine the character with the Chows (who are of Chow Sang Sang jewellery stores).

According to the Boston Globe, Zimny’s lawyer has argued that “common law counts do not serve as an insurance policy for poor judgment, avarice, or any other of many human failings.” In other words: my client takes advantage of rich idiots, and there’s no law against it. No-one comes out of this looking very good (you can’t help having a twinge of sympathy for the poor kids). I suppose the Chows are at best middle-ranking by the standards of Hong Kong plutocrats, and they could really use that US$2 million back. Or, in their wealth-burdened naivety, are they taking this stand on what they see as principle? It was morally wrong for Zimny not to successfully use our money to buy the kids into Harvard, even if his staff did write little Kevin’s ethics essay for him.

We are all prostitutes, and I may as well ‘fess up. Actually, I have little to be hugely ashamed of. Many moons ago, a tycoon’s son’s admission essay to a top US school landed on my desk, with a request to the company’s sole native English-speaker to do whatever seemed necessary. The kid had acquired a dummy’s guide on how to write a dazzling admission essay on personal goals, blah-blah. One suggestion he had taken up was to begin and end the paper with the same sentence. Not a memorable one. And everything between was bilge. I corrected the spelling and punctuation, and passed it back. Number-one brat presented me with an absurdly expensive ‘writing instrument’ (just basic taste and decorum were beyond him). His father, seeing I had done no real repair work, passed the draft on to a crony who headed up an international media organization and who personally (I am pretty sure) re-wrote the whole thing. (He is now remembered mainly for wrecking his company.) The kid failed to get into his top choice school anyway, and had to be content with a less renowned institution, where he was sent a monthly package of cup noodles by a clerical assistant. He graduated – I don’t know how – and is now being groomed to take over from Daddy one day. A dumbass with a fancy-sounding MBA is still a dumbass, as quite a few of the Big Lychee’s blue-chips’ stock prices will attest as the older generation of bosses fades away.

I declare the four-day-weekend-with-compulsory-work-on-Monday open.

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15 Responses to And the worst thing: no-one gives a damn where you went to university

  1. Lois Beluga says:

    I thought Harvard was a brand of shirt at Marks and Spencer.

    Few of my fellow late ’70s Oxonians are now millionaires apart from creeps like Piers Morgan. Many are now dead, like Benazir Bhutto. One college contemporary was blown up by a terrorist bomb in London. The most brilliant one I knew died of an aneurysm.

    The good life is not won by degrees. It is won by hard work. Few of my generation are really capable of it. The world would be Hell if they were.

  2. Real Tax Payer says:

    2/3 x HBS = BS

    ( I went to Oxford)

  3. Walter De Havilland says:

    Just thought I’d mention I went to the University of Hull, with Christine LOH.

  4. jing says:

    The tycoons’ kids are taking over the asylum. Where they went to university is not as important as where they went to school. The ones who went to school in England have much better EQ skills than the US
    educated bunch. Their companies are the ones to watch.

    (I’m not English)
    (I didn’t go to Oxford)

  5. Real Tax Payer says:

    To paraphrase Tom Lehrer at the end of his ditty ” The Elements” ( which I once memorized for a school concert) :

    “These Chows are not too bright and so they failed to enter Harvard
    And there may be many others, but they haven’t been discovered”.

    PS : Just to explain: the 1/3 of HBS that is not BS is the H….

  6. sun sze says:

    Lychee! you got it wrong, the tutoring was not for the kids, it was for Father chow. He paid for his school work at Harvard to be done.
    See these US blogs:

    since when does a 15 year old kid take corporate finance?

  7. Stephen says:

    Maybe the Chow kids can take a leaf out of another inherited wealth Hong Konger, Richard Li and just pretend you went to an esteemed US University (Stanford) and put it on your resume.

    (I went to a local university as I didn’t inherit mega bucks and nor did the Government give a nice chunk of land so I could build flats)

  8. arm bears says:

    sun sze is right. The invoices show much of the ‘tutoring’ was payment for someone to take Gerald’s (=Dad, the guy filing the suit) Harvard MA classes for him, not simply for babysitting teenage Samson and Justin (his sons – and I’m not disclosing anything new; their names are quite visible in the invoices). One wonders if Daddy was even in the US while ‘attending’ Harvard.

    Daddy Chow is some kind of stupid for taking this public.

    This kind of thing is hardly uncommon, or new. I ceased asking for academic credentials from Asia hires more than a decade ago, after too many experiences wondering how this supposedly-offshore-uni-educated potential hire in front of me couldn’t even communicate in the language-of-instruction of said uni.

  9. Real Fudge Player says:

    @ sun sze : By Gad ! I think you’re right . In addition to paying for the hapless sons to try and weasel their way into Harvard, it looks like Gerald , the pater-in-chief , has also been using the self-same tutor-swindler to fudge a MBA for himself as well.

    Maybe the real reason the Chows are suing Zimny is that father Chow failed his MBA

    What a wanker.

  10. Joe Blow says:

    I went to the University of Cowwabonga ! Together with Aaron Kwok.

    So there.

  11. Chimp says:

    The real ethical issue is whether there was “advice” or if someone else did the actual work, or I suppose there may have been some combination of the two.

    If the work was done by an ‘advisor’, that would represent failures all round, of lots of different, interesting types. I am sure the lawyers are loving it.

    Surely there is some kind of examination, or defence, though? The guy would need to know the topic well enough, otherwise he’s going to fail.

  12. Reductio says:

    I like the bit in the deposition where the lawyer asks Zimny to agree that when he (Zimny) adds $231,304 to $72,293 he gets a total of just over $300,000. Zimny’s response: “You want me to do quick math with this?”. Lawyer:”I will withdraw the question.”

    A lot more mileage in this. Can’t wait for Chow pater to lose his degree.

  13. Joe Blow says:

    If prominent politicians or bankers -f.e. David Li- hire full-time speech writers, we don’t think any less of them, do we ?

    Q: “Do we who ?”

    A:”Do we remember ?”

  14. Real Shit Sayer says:

    @ Sun Sze : thanks for the link to Harvard Crimson. I just love the comments below the article – hilariously “outraged” would be a good description 😉

    @ Reductio : yes – I picked up that “quick math ” quote.

    This whole thing is like

    a) deliberately shitting in your pants

    b) holding up the shitty pants for everyone else to see

    c) taking out a newspaper ad to show off your shitty pants

    Guess the Chow’s sons are cringing….. pity them .

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