Tim Clissold was educated at the local Grammar School in Yarm, North Yorkshire. He graduated in Physics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University before moving to London and working with Arthur Andersen, the international accounting and consultancy firm.
In 1986, he went on secondment to Australia and Hong Kong and visited China for the first time on a short trip to Canton that was to change his life.
“It felt as though we had travelled thirty miles up the Pearl River, but fifty years backwards in time.“
China was still a planned economy and faced monumental challenges as it started the long struggle out of chaos and poverty.
The following year, Tim returned to the UK overland through Russia. Entering China though the Karakoram Pass in Northern Pakistan, he travelled across western China towards Xi’an and eventually to Beijing via Shanghai on the coast:
“I followed the string of oasis towns round the edge of the Taklamakan Desert and, after four days on a bus, aching and bruised, I found the railhead and boarded a train to central China. Nearly three months later and a stone and a half lighter, I slipped through the Wall and crossed the grasslands to Moscow.“
Convinced that China was the future, he left full-time work and spent a year studying Mandarin Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University.
In 1990, he completed his Mandarin studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing before co-founding one of the first private equity groups in China. That group invested $420 million of institutional capital in twenty Chinese businesses, forming what is still the largest independent automotive components manufacturer in China. It employs 20,000 people across the country.
Tim is the author of Mr China, which has been translated into fifteen languages and was one of the Economist magazine Books of the Year. His second book, Chinese Rules was published in 2014 and he will publish a third book, Cloud Chamber, in the coming year.
(Tim would like to give special thanks to David Butow for permission to use his photography on the cover of Mr China and on this website.)
Tim later ran Goldman Sachs’ distressed investment business in Beijing, recovering value from complex non-performing loan portfolios in central and eastern China.
In 2008, together with Mina Guli, he established a new business to originate carbon offsets from greenhouse gas emission reduction projects in China with start up capital of €100 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust. The main counterparty in the carbon reduction business was Huaneng Power, China’s largest power generator.
Tim’s daughter Honor was selected to the GB national ski team and has since represented her country at the Junior World Championships in Davos and the Far Eastern Cup in Japan.
Together with Alistair Michie and Hans van de Ven, Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, Tim founded a not-for-profit initiative that has created a new curriculum in Chinese Civilisation for 16-18 year old students. The group plans to introduce the course content, firstly as an A-level qualification available to sixth-form students in Britain, and then internationally.
In 2017, Tim became Custodian of Easby Abbey, which was founded in 1152 and lies on the banks of the River Swale next to his home in North Yorkshire. The abbey was suppressed in 1536 and became a centre for an uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. Henry VIII ordered that his army “shall without pity or circumstance … cause the monks to be tied up [hanged] without further delay.” The ruins later became a favourite subject for artists, including JMW Turner, who made numerous drawings and paintings in the area.
Tim still spends much of his time in China. He recently retraced his steps of 30 years earlier (1988) entering China from Kyrgyzstan through the Irkeshtam Pass and travelling eastwards through Xinjiang towards Central China. He travelled through the remote Shaanxi countryside on a bicycle, encountering changes in the rural areas that were simply staggering.
“The improvement in the lives of Chinese peasant famers over the last three decades is far greater than that achieved in the previous three millennia.“
Tim is a regular speaker on China and advocates for better cross-cultural understanding.
He also undertakes assignments to negotiate with Chinese partners in cases where foreign investors have encountered difficulties; and he leads a small group of experienced China business operators, who coach Western management teams to achieve better results for themselves.
Tim is a non-executive director of the London quoted Henderson Far Eastern Income, one of the UK’s flagship investment trusts that invests in Chinese and Far Eastern equities. He is also a member of the Strategic Advisory Board of Braemar Energy Ventures, the $600m New York venture capital fund focused on energy efficient technologies.