Today in mediocrity

Last week I met “Z”, a Western bank-educated professional who moved to a new Chinese employer after the financial crisis. He worked for a major European bank in Hong Kong until last year, when he was given a pitch by one of the top five mainland investment banks in the city. His new boss offered a nice title – “executive director” – which Z may only have received after another three to four years working at the foreign bank. The title came with a promise that Z would receive a year-end bonus equal to at least five months’ salary.

Sounds tempting, right? Z quit the European bank and accepted the job offer with the mainland bank.

If ‘Z’ sounds both shallow and child-like, that’s probably because he was brought to you by the South China Morning Post’s George Chen. Of several distinctly vacuous columns in the paper, ‘Mr Shangkong’ (‘Shanghai’ and ‘Hong Kong’ – geddit?) is the most mystifying. It reads like it was written by an eager-to-impress 12-year-old. It manages to avoid any analysis or facts of value, instead focusing (so far as I gather from my occasional hasty scanning) on anecdotes that seem contrived to portray both the author and the Mainland’s supposed financial mega-hub as dazzling and important. To the extent that we can be bothered to ponder the puzzle, we are likely to conclude that some sort of nepotism is the most likely explanation.

It probably escaped the attention of most of us when the SCMP announced that Chen had been made a 2014 Yale World Fellow. (Intriguingly, the director of this hitherto unheard-of scheme for ‘dynamic, high-impact practitioners’ is a professor of paediatrics. The list of notable Fellows is short but suggests that the emphasis is very much on the worthy/trendy, Third World/environmental side of things. Note that you can nominate yourself for this honour.)

This has prompted some unhappiness at Yale. A disgruntled student says that Chen has provided ‘fraudulent and misleading information’ about his credentials (more dynamic, high-impact awards you’ve never heard of) and is guilty of, among other things, a ‘lack of humanistic concerns to society’, which many of us had probably subconsciously picked up on from the smug, leering grin on his publicity photo. The whole diatribe is here. We await further lurid details, at least until something less mind-numbing comes along.


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