與G先生談判購買他的股份是非常令人沮喪的事。作為一個精明生意人，他很明白他的股份對我們是非常重要，但他同時亦知道，只有我們的銀行才能有足夠金錢，讓他脫離這個因他想撓過銀行監管法例而做成的困局。我們曾經數次達成議價，卻都因他欲索取更高的價錢而拉倒。這情況持續了好一段時間，我們才從G 先生手上買到他的股份，再完成整個收購行動。正在這時，政府介入並禁止G 先生收取他售賣股份的金錢。
由於G 先生與稅務局及銀行監理處的糾紛，政府在交易完成後很短的時間內，不動聲色地頒發了一道法庭命令，要充公G先生賣股所得的金錢。我們沒有選擇，只有依政府要求向法庭交出與G 先生交易的數百萬美元。當 G先生發覺他的金錢被政府沒收，他立即變臉。我們九個月的友誼立即變質，他恐嚇要控告我及銀行。他日夜不斷從香港致電予我，要求付款。當他知道我們實在不能控制這個交易的付款時，他由要求、恐嚇轉變為侮辱，他冷嘲地說：「你只是一個下賤的打工仔，你可知道與你交易的人是何等有財有勢！」
G 先生作為一間上市公司的主席，他在九十年代中曾擊退一間國際投資集團的收購行動。報章描述他如何用他的精明及財富去澈底打敗一群國際投機者，及如何無情地給予他們懲罰與教訓。這些國際投機者顯然低估了他與其家人在他們的上市公司之控制權，因G 先生仍採用慣常用的技倆，以不同的公司提名人去隱藏他的實際控股權。當國際投機者的小數股份被鎖住，他會發行大量新股去沖淡他們的股份。當我在報章讀到這些資料，我亦不禁驚訝，他真是一位強悍及聰明的生意人。
原來，G 先生於1999 年在58歲時死於癌病。就算在死亡，他仍要展示他的富有。望著他那佔據十二塊墓地的墳墓，G先生有足夠的狡詐和強悍，令他走上商業世界的頂峰，他的財富令不少人羨慕。他知道如何從合法及不大合法的漏洞取得利益、冷酷地吞併其生意對手、甚至能挑戰並打敗稅務局，但他對死亡卻是無力控制。在死亡裡，他不能拿走任何東西。「他怎樣從母胎赤身而來、也必照樣赤身而去。他所勞碌得來的，手中分毫不能帶去。」（傳道書 5章15節）。他的財富只可以為他買到十二塊墓地；但我肯定他只可以佔據一副棺材。G 先生生命最後的一章，與比他先離去及每一個在他以後死亡的人一樣（包括你與我）—-死亡是何等地平等啊！
I originally wrote it in English for ProMinistry:
THE STORY OF MR. G
This is a real story. It is a rather long one.
I first met Mr. G in 1992, one year after I was appointed the President and CEO of the United Savings Bank. There was a small local bank that competed with my bank. I had wanted to acquire it, and my desire turned into action when the bank regulators contacted me and asked if I would be interested in pursuing such an acquisition. “There were a number of serious issues at the ownership level in this bank, and we think an acquisition by a larger and stronger bank is the only way to resolve the problems," the regulators told me.
The “ownership problem" turned out to be largely the work of Mr. “G", an extremely crafty and wealthy businessman from Asia. Banking regulations in the U.S. require that any individual or entity receive prior governmental approval before it can own more than 9.9% of a financial institution. This law was designed to prevent unauthorized or reckless control of banks. The government usually does a thorough checking on the entity, particularly a foreign entity, before granting such approval. Mr. G, being a crafty businessman, proceeded to use three to four different entities, all seemingly unrelated but in actuality all owned and controlled by him, to each purchase less than 9.9% of this bank. So he was able to control this bank without going through governmental approval, or at least this was what he thought. Of course the government discovered his scheme, and promptly froze his shareholding from voting. When so much of a public company’s shares were in limbo, it could no longer access the capital market or have an effective ownership structure. Mr. G was also locked in constant and fierce battles with the bank’s board of directors which tried hard to fend Mr. G off. Mr. G threatened lawsuits on the bank and its board. It turned out that one of Mr. G’s favorite weapon was his liberal use of lawyers. He even sued the IRS!
His battle with the IRS started even earlier. He made a series of real estate investments in California, and hid his profits behind various offshore companies that he and his lawyers liberally used. The IRS went after him for back taxes to the tune of over US$20 million. He was locking horns with the IRS while he was battling the bank’s board and the bank regulators. When I first met him, he was proudly describing to me how much he enjoyed having head-to-head combats with the U.S. government and with the bank’s board. “I have the money to hire the best lawyers, and I am not a bit afraid of the government, not even the IRS", he boasted. Mr. G just enjoyed beating up on his opponents, and the bigger his opponent the merrier.
I approached Mr. G in an attempt to purchase his shares, and thus began a most memorable nine-month saga of negotiating and dealing with Mr. G. Without his “frozen shares", I would not be in a position to make a bid for the remaining shares which were in the hands of many small shareholders. Frustrated with his inability to control the bank with his “frozen shares", he wanted to sell. But being a smart businessman, he knew I needed his shares in order to acquire the bank, so he wasn’t going to let the shares go without extracting from me the best price he could get. Moreover, he wanted to inflict punishment on the bank’s board members whom he considered his bitter enemies. Motivated by such mixed emotions and our cross purposes, he and I became instant “friends". During this time I got to know Mr. G quite well. Too well, in fact.
Mr. G wanted to sell me his shares, and he had all the share certificates in his hands. Yet he kept reminding me that he really did not own any of the shares. He made the same arguments about his use of foreign trusts to avoid taxes – because his name was not on the trusts he had no ownership interest or tax liabilities whatsoever. Mr. G somehow believed that as long as you hide behind cleverly-crafted shams and veils, you can achieve your purposes free of any legal constraints. Of course, he believed when you are caught, you just have to hire the best lawyers to fight.
Another thing I found out about Mr. G was his constant boasting about his massive wealth. He was the only person I had met who would pull from his pocket a list of his stock holding in various companies just to show-off his wealth. And he would do this every now and then, as if to remind me how successful and wealthy he was. Of course he invited me to tour his mansion on the hill, and then bragged about the million dollar price he paid. From my understanding of Mr. G’s background, he had a rather humble start from Southeast Asia. He married into a wealthy family while being a foreign student here in the sixties. So he always wanted to remind people that he was a self-made man, and that his wealth came from his own abilities, not from his in-laws.
To learn more about my intriguing negotiation with Mr. G, the unexpected outcome of the bank acquisition, and the most surprising “reunion" I recently had with Mr. G just about a week ago, come back to this column in a couple of weeks.
Negotiating with Mr. G on the sale of his shares was quite a frustrating experience. A smart businessman, he realized how much his shares meant to us. But at the same time he knew that only my bank can cash him out of a messy situation created by his deliberate attempt to circumvent the banking regulations. Several times we would agree on a price, only to have him renege on it shortly after because he wanted a higher price. This went on for a while, until finally the transaction was finalized. Mr. G sold his shares to us and we completed the acquisition. But then the government stepped in to stop Mr. G from receiving the payment for his shares.
Because of his troubles with the IRS and banking regulators, shortly before the close of transaction the government quietly placed a court-order to confiscate the proceeds due Mr. G. I, therefore, had no choice but to turn over the several million dollars of Mr. G’s proceeds to the court. When Mr. G found out that his money was intercepted, he was livid. Our 9-month old “friendship" took an abrupt turn for the worse, as he threatened lawsuits on me and on the bank. He would call me from Hong Kong day and night to demand payment. Then when it was clear to him that we had no control over our payment, his demand and threats turned into insults. “You are just a lousy salaried man, and you have no idea what kind of a wealthy and powerful person you are dealing with", Mr. G sneered.
The government began a new series of investigation into Mr. G to prove that he had violated banking regulations, and I was asked to testify a number of times. Perhaps his lawyers warned Mr. G that his demands and insults toward me were not going to help him in his fights with the government, his phone calls suddenly stopped. I did not hear from Mr. G ever again since 1994. But I understood that he began suing the government. I only read about his business ventures in Asia in the newspapers.
As the Chairman of a public company in Hong Kong, he fought off a take-over attempt by an international investment group during the mid-nineties. The newspapers described how his craftiness and resourcefulness had enabled him soundly defeat a group international speculators, and how he ruthlessly inflicted punishment on them. International speculators had apparently underestimated the control Mr. G and his family had had on the shareholding of his public company, as Mr. G was up to his old tricks again in using different nominee companies to disguise his ownership. Once the international speculator’s minority investment were “locked-in", Mr. G began to dilute their shareholding by having the company issue many new shares. When I was reading about these on the newspapers, I could not help but be amazed by how tough and clever a businessman Mr. G was.
During the Asian financial crisis, Mr. G thrived even more. His strong liquidity position had enabled him to purchase weaker corporations. He acquired a prominent shipping company, and became the Chairman of a second public company. He also had some success in his lawsuits against the IRS. Mr. G went against the IRS and came out ahead — that was how tough and successful he was. In my twenty odd years of doing business in both Asia and in the U.S., I had never come across a more crafty businessman.
Seven years later, I ran into Mr. G unexpectedly again last week. It was not a “reunion" I had expected.
My parents had wanted to purchase their future burial plots. As devout Christians, they had no fear in facing their eventual demise, so they wanted to be well prepared. I took them out last Saturday to the City of Colma, the only City in the U.S. where the population of the dead outnumbers the living. As we toured one of the many memorial parks there, we came across a particular grave site that could not have been missed by anyone: instead of occupying one regular plot like every grave there, this grave site sprawled across 12 plots! The manager of the park told me this is the grave of a very wealthy and important person from Asia. I came closer, and realized that it is Mr. G’s grave.
Unbeknownst to me, Mr. G had died of cancer in early 1999 at age 58. In death, he was still displaying his wealth. Watching his impressive 12-plot grave site, the image of Mr. G’s face replayed on my mind as vividly as it was just yesterday. Mr. G had the craftiness and toughness to rise to the top of the business world, and his wealth was the envy of many. He knew how to take advantage of both legal and not-so-legal loopholes, to ruthlessly devour his business opponents, and even fought the IRS and came out ahead. Yet he was powerless against death. In death, he could take nothing with him. “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand". (Ecclesiastes 5:15) His wealth could buy him a 12-plot grave site, but I am sure he could occupy no more than one coffin. Mr. G’s final chapter is the same as every one who had passed on before him, and every one (including you and me) who will pass on after him. Death, what a great equalizer!
My friend, since in death we can bring absolutely nothing with us, where is the hope for our short and temporary stay on planet earth? If death is truly the end to all of our accomplishments in life, what is the meaning of life? For Christians, we know there is much more to this life, and in death we pass through into eternity where we will spend with the Creator of the universe who also created each one of us and loved each one of us enough to die for our sins. Only by accepting His salvation can we qualify for such eternal life. It is a critical decision you and I can (and must) make while we are still alive on this earth.