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Song Wenzhou: I’m not smart, but thank God I’m also not a rubber stamp

Song Wenzhou in the lobby lounge of the Four Seasons Hotel    Photo: Sino-US.com

Editor’s Notes: Little known in China, Song Wenzhou was labeled by the Japanese media as one of the most famous Chinese living in Japan. He rose to fame in 2000 by becoming the first foreign business owner whose company got listed on Japan’s Market of high-growth and emerging stocks (Mothers). In 2010, he came back to China and now prospers in a completely different field—blogging as a business review writer.

I met Mr. Song Wenzhou (宋文洲) in the tastefully decorated lobby lounge of the Four Seasons Hotel in Liangmaqiao (亮马桥), nearby which his Beijing home is located.

It was a cold and cloudy morning, but he arrived on time and greeted me with a warm handshake and pleasant smile.

Song Wenzhou: not just a blogger

Song, as a government scholarship student sent to Japan, gained his doctorate degree in civil engineering in 1991. And after graduation, instead of pursuing employment in big Japanese companies like his peers, Song set up his own software company ‘Softbrain’ for selling self-designed civil engineering software applied to personal computers.

The business was unprecedented and so gained instant success. In a bold move in 1998, Song transformed  Softbrain to design software for cell phones and developed eSalesManager, a kind of software for monitoring sales activities, and also the first sales management software in the world co-operated by networked mobile phones (i-mode) and cloud computing. eSalesManager is well-received by many big brand names in Japan like Sony, Toyota, Nissan, and Shiseido, and soon grabbed the largest share of market at the time.  

In 2000, the successful transformation got Softbrain listed on the Market of high-growth and emerging stocks (Mothers) and by 2005, the company finally accomplished main board listing.

Besides managing a successful business, Song also wrote and published over 20 books about business administration with the best-selling one titled Japanese Are Selling in a Queer Way, being recommended by Fujio Cho (张富士夫), the CEO of Toyota Motors to his employees.

From a poor student subsidized by the government to a successful entrepreneur and best-seller, Song Wenzhou was idolized by Japanese media as a perfect instance of foreigners achieving financial success in Japan.

“I was hyped up by the Japanese media and their ‘Japanese Dream’—a term coined for drawing public attention to Japan’s economic recovery at the beginning of the new century,” Song said, pointing out IT revolution at the time rescued the island country from economic gloom caused by a broken bubble economy in the 1990s.

In 2006, concerned about the fickle nature of Sino-Japan relations, Song sold out his controlling stake in ‘Softbrain’ and retreated from the board of directors, to avoid the company being targeted at by Japan’s right-wing force. 

Song came back to China in 2010, and except for being invited by Japanese TV stations for guest hosting some commentary programs, he spent most of his time writing about Sino-Japan relations, economy, and business management for caixin.com, an authoritative website specializing in providing original financial reviews.

“I don’t write for money, now that I’ve got enough money from previous business. So, I do what I’d like to do and say what I consider right,” said Song.

For all I know, the reviews written by the pragmatic former entrepreneur featuring humor and ease which could always explain profound theories in simple language, are being furiously reprinted by websites and print media and could easily get tens of thousands of hits.

What’s behind Song’s success story?

Song told me he was writing an article at home before heading for the interview.

“Writing is a natural thing for me to do,” he said, “and it’s the only thing I don’t need to try hard but I can still do well. You know, I’m not the smart type.”

I found the remark confusing for that he had made all the aforementioned achievements. In my assumption, people who could make those things happen must be intelligent in some way.

So, I asked, “you are the first foreigner who made business listed on Japan’s main board, have you wondered why? To be more specific, have you wondered which part of your qualifications, or temperament, or talents brought you to that place?

“I would not go with the stream,” Song said, “because general trend does not always mean the right road to tread on.”

Song recalled his miserable childhood caught in the whirlpools of China’s notorious Cultural Revolution (文化大革命), “the history teaches me a lesson—the opinion of the majority doesn’t mean that they are right, it only means that they are popular, and nothing more.”

“When most of my classmates are working on mainframes, I was designing software that could be applied on personal computers; when most Japanese graduates obtained sense of accomplishments by working for big companies, I ventured into starting my own business; when most people believe partying and networking could help sell products, I doubt it and put forward my own theories which proved to be more useful later. If there must be a reason behind all these moves, then I guess that's it—I always choose the unbeaten track, maybe for avoiding competition or maybe I’m less susceptible by the mainstream than others, I just don’t know” said Song with a naughty smile.  

Do you also have a Chinese dream?

When being asked, “Do you have a Chinese dream?”

Song answered, “No.”

“I don’t believe in dreams. In my idea, you are allowed to have no dreams, but you are required to have an open mind and independent thinking,” he further explained.

“Now, I just want to lead an easy life—a life I truly enjoy. That’s also the reason I retreated from Softbrain and came back to China,” the popular blogger confided.

“So, there is no specific plan for the future—like rising one step after another to a famous authorship?” I asked.

“No. No plans at all. Just do things I like and enjoy,” Song added, although seemingly being reminded of something.

“When I was a high school student, I had a dream—to become a writer, but my tutor talked me out of it.”

“Do you regret for your decision back then?”

“No. You see, I could still be a writer now. But if I chose literature from the very beginning, I may never be able to run a software company ever. And I may not be able to possess the logical thinking which could only be cultivated by years of immersion in science subjects,” said Song.

When we parted, he said, “Write anything that impresses you and I will be ok with it.”

“A cheerful and lovely person,” I thought.


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