Stephen Greer's Starting From Scratch

This book is the story of how Stephen Greer went to Asia in 1993 at the age of 24 and started a scrap metal recycling company, eventually growing it into a $250 million business that was acquired in 2005. Not health care, but solid general business lessons nonetheless.

The book starts off with Stephen Greer landing in Hong Kong with a one way ticket purchased with his father's frequent flier miles and crashes on the sofa of a friend of friend's place. After this, he proceeds with soaking in the local culture, networking and cold calling prospects to find opportunities and eventually decided on the metal scrapping business. Keep in mind that this was the era when there was a lot of growth in most Asian countries.

Mainland China was also opening up its economy. Both the supply and demand of metals were high, yet there wasn't an established metal scraps player in the E Asia/SE Asia market. The author, being a visionary entrepreneur, saw this huge wave and was able to ride it by establishing Hartwell Pacific through networking and hard work. It wasn't easy though, as Greer had to migrate through the intricacies of the developing country bureaucracy, manage a global team that some times stole from the company, and defeat the competition by entering new markets and growing the company.

Greer also made a deal with the VC firm KLM Capital Group and the book documents his experience with them as well. In the end, Hartwell Pacific was successfully acquired by an Australian company, Smorgon Steel Group.

Here's what I liked about the book:

1. While the book is mostly written as a biography, there are nuggets of wisdom embedded here and there. I was able to find 15 key points that gave me valuable insight on management, leadership, negotiation, and working in developing countries. Combined with Greer's narrative, reading this book made me think and learn a lot.

2. Its honesty - Greer merged aspects of his personal life with his business adventures, giving a more realistic view of entrepreneurship. Being an entrepreneur is not easy, and Greer documents the many sacrifices he made in relationships with his family and friends to achieve his entrepreneurial dream.

3. It's relatively more representative (thanks Ryan for the feedback). The vast majority of startups are not going to end up like Google, Apple, Oracle or Facebook, to name a few.

4. Because I have yet to have experience dealing with VC firms, corporate lawyers, or strategic partners, Greer's narrative was new and exciting to me. This will surely prepare me for similar situations down the road.

Some take home messages I found in the book:

1. Network - Greer could not have achieved his success without everyone who helped him along the way. Many of the important contacts that helped Greer along early on were from his parents. Regardless of how you make contacts, whether through alumni networks, friends, parents, friends of friends, always keep an open mind.

2. To add value in the marketplace, you must first know the key players and their strengths and weaknesses. This entails having a deep understanding of the industry and spending real time doing homework. For tips on keeping up with the biotechnology industry, read Good (& Free) Biotechnology Blogs to Follow.

3. In Asia, it is a good idea to make business relationships personal. The best way to do this? According to Greer, it's to invite them to your home.

4. In developing countries, it is important to have lots of friends who are at low levels in the government. 

5. Have respect and patience as a foreigner in a country. Learn the local customs and be observant.

I don't remember how I heard about this book, but it ended up in my Amazon shopping cart. I do recall that while I wasn't very knowledgeable about the scrap recycling business, I was very interested in entrepreneurship opportunities in Asia, so I purchased the book. It turned out to be a good choice.

Stephen Greer's book (Amazon)

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