July Shenzhener Of The Month – Michael Sylvester
Michael Sylvester is a lawyer by trade but his enterprises in Shenzhen don’t stop there, Michael’s law firm supports a host of charitable and good causes and his wife Kate has set up a company to help children with special needs. For all this and more Michael is our Shenzhener of the month for July.
JH – When did you come to China?
MS – Almost 10 years ago, I worked for an environmental compliance department for the UN and coming to China offered me a great opportunity.
JH – How did you come to set up your own law firm in Shenzhen?
MS – I set up the firm to serve foreign clients and help them fulfill their potential once China opened itself up to the outside world, it was a gamble but has paid off as China is much more open now.
JH – What has been your biggest challenge since coming to Shenzhen?
MS – Convincing people I was just a lawyer as most foreigners have five or six jobs, people thought I must be trying to sell something or trade something as well. It was also difficult been away from Kate as she was still back in the US when I came here.
JH – How much has Shenzhen and Shekou changed in the last 10 years?
MS – Immensely, Futian was rice fields 10 years ago and Sea world was under the ocean! The border used to close at 9pm which made commuting for people living in Shenzhen and working in Hong Kong very difficult.
JH – How has your business been effected since China opened up to the West and what do you specialize in?
MS – Our business has grown around 200% over the last 10 years, we try our best to help foreigners who want to follow China’s rules. In 10 years I am proud to say I have never handed over a red envelope. We are the only foreign registered law firm to date in China. We specialize in restructuring existing entities to remain within Chinese law. We handle mergers, acquisitions, criminal law, tax issues and help Chinese business’s go public.
JH – Tell me about your family
MS – I have a genius wife Kate. Kate runs a company offering services for children with special needs and we have a 14 year old son. We have set up the Recognize foundation which runs charitable activities across South Asia, we have taken creative supplies to remote regions and played a pivotal role in distributing goods after the Sichuan earthquake. We sent tents, food, water and other supplies using money donated by the world wide Jewish community. Our staff were working round the clock to assist in the relief effort and even now we are still involved.
JH – You do a lot for charity, could you put a figure on how much your company gives to charity each year?
MS – Over 1.5million RMB per year to a range of good causes.
JH – Wow!!! That is pretty amazing. What is the funniest thing you have seen in Shenzhen?
MS – While on holiday in Hainan I strolled along the beach and found a hoard of fully clothed people wearing raincoats paddling in the sea, when I asked why the raincoats they said they didn’t want to get wet!!
JH – What do you love about Shenzhen?
MS – I love China because they allow me to be here and do the things I do. China is changing the world and here in Shenzhen we are at the heart of it.
JH – What do you dislike?
MS – It is taking people here a long time to realize there is more to life than money.
Thank you Michael.
While interviewing Michael he also told me many tales of amazing and crazy things which have happened in his time in China, unfortunately I cannot print them here but if you know Michael I am sure he will be more than happy to sit down over a plate of nachos and a beer and tell you about his adventures in this amazing place.