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Stephane Grand, Managing Partner at S.J. Grand Financial and Tax Advisory, Has Read Hundreds of Books in the Past Decade Alone

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Stephane Grand is a Managing Partner at S.J. Grand Financial and Tax Advisory, a company that focuses on assisting foreign-invested firms and multinationals in China.

Stephane founded S.J. Grand Financial and Tax Advisory in 2002, in Hong Kong, and has expanded since with offices all across China. Their team of professionals is ready to provide expertise in corporate finances, taxes and consultancy terms. They help companies by advising them which risks can be turned into opportunities, and also provide strategies for tax planning, client transactions and accountancy services.

With more than 20 years of experience in the financial field, Stephane specializes in management restructuring and capital structure optimization. He provided financial and legal advisory in China on over US$1 billion in foreign direct investment.

We had the pleasure of finding out some of Stephane’s favorite reads – it’s a small number compared to how much he’s actually read in the past decade. We also talked about how he transitioned from being an employee to starting his own business, common myths related to finances, and what he’d recommend to young people searching for their passions. There is a lot to learn from Stephane, so don’t let us keep you guessing!

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

My favorite book is “Thus spoke Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche. I do not think I have ever read a book that had more resonance for me.

I do not believe there are business and non-business books. Business is life, you do business like the man or woman you excavate from the person you are told you are. Hence, the most potent business books are not about business, in my opinion. What makes a great business book is that it is a book that helps you find a better version of yourself. Therefore, I would say that my favorite business book is Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings. It is an amazing inwards look at how to win battles.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

I have been running my own businesses for the last 15 years. Just before that, before diving head-on into entrepreneurship and independence, I used to be the country monitor of a large accounting and consulting network for China. Having had some ethical differences with members of my former network, I decided to break away from it. However, since I was equipped with a very expensive education, everybody around me was recommending that I would go and work for another firm. I was mired in doubt and was considering going back to management consulting.

I have always had two go-to books when having moments of self-doubt like this. Those books are the Zarathustra and the Gay Science by Nietzsche.

As I was reading through the prologue of the Zarathustra, and the title character was seeing the acrobat crossing between towers on the marketplace of Baghdad, I realized that staying in a cushy job would not help me cross between the beast and the superman, in a manner of speaking.

Hence, Nietzsche helped me make a decision that I had already made in my heart, and which consisted in starting my own company. “A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal […]”. Nothing in literature seems to summarize the path of an entrepreneur more than this quote from the Zarathustra.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

Apart from the Zarathustra, another book had a tremendous impact on me: Der Waldgang by Ernst Jünger. This is a book about freedom and materiality, how one can regain his freedom by forsaking material possessions and leave the society of bonded men, like classical Germany’s outlaws would leave home and family to escape retribution in the deep forests. The launch of a business, and more to the point, the transition from being a well-fed corporate agent to being a starving and permanently scared entrepreneur is very close to the one from living in a house with your family to sleeping in the woods and fending off starvation on a daily basis. Realizing that this was not too high a price to pay for my freedom was defining for me.

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

When I look back at my career path, it is the one of an entrepreneur. I have built various businesses, from accounting and financial advisory firms to tech and security businesses. I have also spent most of my adult life in China, a country that is quite hostile to foreigners and very unfair. I have accepted to suffer the hardships of building my business without any investment from anybody, and stick very firmly to my values. I would recommend young people to read about adventure, hardships, and moral choices. Of course, it would be important to also read about the drivers of our humanity, hence the motley list below:

  • The Hunger by Knut Hamsun. This is an amazing book about being true to your engagements.
  • 1984 by George Orwell. Everybody, whether they decide to spend their lives in a police state or not, needs to read 1984. It is a book about moral choices, being different, and being broken. Being an entrepreneur is not always about wine and roses, it is also about resisting.
  • The Naked Ape, Desmond Moriss’s classic zoological study of the human being.
  • Across the Pacific by Akira Iriyie, great book for those who want to see the bigger picture of East-West relations.
  • The Zhuangzi, book in which is encapsulated the whole of Chinese culture according to me.
  • The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli.
  • Jin Ping Mei, a Ming dynasty book that shows a lot of constants in Chinese behaviors.
  • The ego and his own by Max Stirner, because there is a bit of an anarchist in every entrepreneur.
  • We were soldiers once, and young … because entrepreneurship is infantry combat.
  • The Centurions, an amazing novel by Jean Larteguy, both for the leadership and counterinsurgency aspects of it. This book was on the nightstand of General David Patraeus during his years as the commander of the ISAF in Afghanistan.
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.
  • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
  • De Vita Beata (on the happy life) by Seneca the Younger.
  • The Second World War by Winston Churchill. “In War: Resolution, In Defeat: Defiance, In Victory: Magnanimity, In Peace: Goodwill”.
  • The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. It is both a great book for a martial artist and an inspiring, down-to-earth, business book. As all good business books, it was not written as such, of course.

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

I have spent the best part of a decade being a researcher in China, France and the United States and have been fortunate to have access to some of the best and largest libraries in the world, including those of La Sorbonne and Harvard. During those years, I read hundreds of books on law, history, Chinese culture, philosophy, linguistics for my Ph.D. dissertation. My business life does not allow me to read full time, but I use all my traveling time to read. For this reason, I carry an e-reader everywhere. Though I find electronic formats to be very convenient, I have a tendency to read lighter works on them, that is, either purely technical books on programming, statistics or business, or beach reading with a hearty fare of science fiction and general fiction.

How do you make time for reading?

There is time in our days for reading. The limit is the format. I have a good e-reader that allows me to pick up a book on my cell phone when I am in a taxi or waiting for a meeting and buy books from the devices directly.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

I accept that some of what you read will stick and some will not. There is enjoyment in reading, and in the end, you always come changed from a good book.

During my years of research, I had programmed a rudimentary reference database in which I took notes on over a thousand books.

How do you choose what books to read next?

In a certain way, I trust Amazon’s AI. I also find books in the notes of other books I found of interest.

What book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

At the moment, I am reading the following books for the following reasons:

  • R for Everyone by Jared P. Lander – I have not programmed in R for a while and want to get back into it for an artificial intelligence project on which I am working.
  • Vermillion Sands by J.G. Ballard – I love Ballard and I need a bit of break from Shanghai where I currently reside.

What common myths do you encounter on a day-to-day basis related to finances?

The number one myth is that money will make you happy, that consuming more will make you happy. At the end of the day, believing in your mission and having a community of likeminded individuals is what matters, money follows. It is all about focus.

What would you recommend to someone who’s very young and not yet aware of their passion? Where should they begin their professional journey?

Be curious, do not feel constrained by your training or family traditions. Be ready to survive on a diet of Wonderbread and ramen for a few years. Try everything that sounds remotely fun. However, get a real training… lawyer, accountant, programmer, physicist, whatever… but you need a real training. Majoring in “women studies”, philosophy or music will not help you professionally in most cases. You can learn this on your own time if you are passionate.

Links where you can follow Stephane Grand or find out more about his projects:

All books mentioned by Stephane Grand in this interview:

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