From China's Lost Generation to American Private Equity Professor: A Discussion with Weijian Shan


Having lived through both China’s Great Leap Forward during primary school, then the Cultural Revolution and the closing of schools for ten years, Beijing-born Weijian Shan, instead of a secondary school education spent six hard years in the Gobi Desert with the Army Construction Corps.

Remarkably, the young Shan made it to a PhD program at UC Berkeley where he met his academic advisor, then Professor Janet Yellen, later U.S. Treasury Secretary. (Somewhat ironically now attending to the insolvencies of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank). Shan goes on to become a Wharton School business professor before moving into investment banking and private equity investing making financial business history with the successful takeover and turnaround of failed banks in South Korea and China.

Both generous with his time and patient with my questions, Dr. Shan is currently Executive Chairman of PAG, a private equity firm managing assets of some $50 billion. We discussed the books in chronological order with a few tangents that Shan used to both clarify and instruct such as:

  • his 2006 public debate with World Bank economists about Chinese profitability;
  • why his generation truly is a ‘Lost Generation’;
  • his career and transitions including, among other things, the connection between recent financial crises and the basics of sound financial banking systems;
  • lessons from and advice for business negotiation;
  • the importance of leadership, and his two keys to an ‘ownership’ mentality.

All within the context of his well-written and interesting narratives providing personal accounts of life during the Cultural Revolution period in China, as well as historic overseas private equity bank deals as described by the publisher, Wiley and Sons, adapted below:

  • Out of the Gobi: My Story of China and America draws a vivid picture of the raw human energy and the will to succeed against all odds. Shan, a former hard laborer who is now one of Asia's best-known financiers, is thoughtful, observant, eloquent, and brutally honest, making him well-positioned to tell the story of a life that is a microcosm of modern China, and of how, improbably, that life became intertwined with America. This powerful and personal perspective on China and America will inform Americans' view of China, humanizing the country, while providing a rare view of America from the prism of a keen foreign observer who lived the American dream. (2019)
  • Money Games: The Inside Story of How American Dealmakers Saved Korea’s Most Iconic Bank is a riveting tale of one of the most successful buyout deals ever: the acquisition and turnaround of what used to be Korea's largest bank by the Asian arm of an American firm, Newbridge Capital. Full of intrigue and suspense, this insider's account is told by the chief architect of the deal itself, the celebrated author and private equity investor Weijian Shan. With billions of dollars at stake, and the nation's economic future on the line, Newbridge Capital sought to become the first foreign firm in history to take control of one of Korea's most beloved financial institutions. (2020)
  • In Money Machine: A Trailblazing American Venture in China, Weijian Shan delivers a compelling account of one of the most significant deals in private equity history: the first and only foreign acquisition of control of a Chinese national bank. Money Machine is the fascinating inside story of the transaction as told by the man who led it, from the intrigues of dealmaking to the complex and uncharted process of securing control by a foreign investor of a Chinese nationwide financial institution, a feat that had never before been attempted, nor has it been repeated. (2023)

Keith Krueger teaches at the Sydney Business School at Shanghai University - can be reached at or

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