Published by: Troubador / Matador
Released: March 2022
Genre: Travel & Adventure
My first book was published in March 2022 by Matador.
It’s a light-hearted and largely true story of two long business trips I made in the early 2000s.
Part One is a whirlwind business trip around half the countries in South America in just a fortnight, faceing near-death experiences in planes and cars, meeting civil insurrection face-to-face, risking kidnap and having to overcome mindless bureaucracy that could derail the itinerary on a daily basis.
Then, in Part Two, a three week trip around the Far East in the company of a obstreperous, can’t-do-without but can’t-do-with female colleague, learning new cultures fast.
‘Would I have chosen ever to read a book on business? No.
‘Would I have chosen to read a book on travel? No.
‘But what a treat I would have missed if I had passed this one by.
‘The first part takes the reader by road and air and foot – and occasionally by the throat and other vulnerable body parts – from Sao Paulo in Brazil to Venezuela, through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile, and finishes in Argentina. A travel itinerary to envy, if it were not to make routine visits to remote factories, dealing by turns with recalcitrant managers and obstructive and overly zealous security guards. Hairy moments are recounted, and the skill of the writer is that you are right there with him, sweaty and with heart palpitating as what looked simple in the planning develops regularly into anything but.
‘However, all this opening is merely the set up necessary to deliver what comes next.
‘In Jin-Ae, the author’s female business companion for a trip to the Far East, we meet a creation of literary genius. She is a modern day, Asian Becky Sharp – and it is hard to construct a more incongruous pairing than her with her boss. Characters such as she colour life for the rest of us.
‘This book is an easy, hugely enjoyable read. Don’t be put off by the apparent subject matter. It is not a stodgy business manual – more a delightful, off-beat travelogue with an off-beat much travelled narrator, plenty of vivid characters to meet en route, anecdotal fun, plus an education on local cuisines. Take it as your companion read next time you travel. It will give you a lot of laughs, and the occasional cold sweat!’
Every reader approaches a book with one of these goals: to be educated, thrilled, entertained, or inspired. When I first approached this book, I expected to get educated on business and international business aspects and possibly launch something based on the information I acquired. While this could be the case, I acknowledge that I was caught by surprise. Is this a business book? Yes. Does it have more to offer? Yes, way more than I expected, and made it possibly the best business book I have ever read. Oliver Dowson’s “There’s No Business Like International Business” is a stellar literature piece that transcends its genre and brings forward one of the most unforgettable stories of travels and business, unlike any other author I have read before.
Did the author intend to make this a book about travel? Honestly, I do not think so. However, he takes the reader on an exciting journey around the world, showing different cultures and businesses in a way that other platforms could not have achieved. I read this book in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that I was locked up most of the time, and the only way I could interact with other cultures was through social media. However, Dowson has candidly described the world unconventionally and enticingly, making the book addictive. As he traveled through South America, from Sao Paolo to Argentina, we get to see and know different characters and their businesses; their achievements, challenges, and motivations. From all the books I have read, not many authors have managed to find a perfect balance between all these aspects like Dowson has. And he doesn’t stop there; he takes us to Asia on a similarly exciting and educative journey.
More importantly, this book talks about businesses all over the world. Oliver Dowson, by reputation, is one of the most travelled authors, and in this book, he gives the reader an insight into small and big businesses from all over the world. While he gives his account of how he views small businesses, he also gives the reader an insight into how the most successful people in business think. He shows how to approach opportunities, find solutions to their problems, and deal with disappointing subordinates and business partners. I don’t think one can get such information from an ordinary book, and in my opinion, this is one thing that makes the book a treasure.
There’s no business like International Business (TNBLIB) is a wonderfully engaging and idiosyncratic offering that confidently transcends the seemingly steady travelogue genre. Dowson is a successful businessman. Almost twenty years ago his company was faced with the task of expanding globally; commercial necessity expanded his passion for international travel and cuisine. Fortunately for us, Dowson has recounted events from this period, dispatching something to savour.
Split into two sections, the first takes us across South America. Seven countries within twelve days, interspersed with supplementary recollections. The second takes us through China, Japan, and Korea in 3 weeks of business meetings and cultural immersion.
We have the vividity of exotica that travelogue junkies demand: the impossibility of navigating tropical rainstorms, car ferries that more closely resemble ‘oversized pallets’, blazing Venezuelan buses, night flights on an ancient aircraft courtesy of the Ecuadorian military, and DIY internet connections that result in explosions.
Indomitability proves paramount. An appreciatively brief initial visit to Venezuela (comprising riots, kidnappers, and corrupt officials) yields immutable advice about rental vehicles should an armoured 4×4, or police escort prove unavailable. Farcical demonstrations bankrolled by the Ecuadorian government results in our protagonist’s first, and mercifully only encounter with tear gas.
Familiarity with Colombia’s cartels and civil strife aside, a brow is justifiably arched at hotel security diktats, whereby the use of taxi from portico to the immediate restaurants is non-negotiable. Realisation that flight crew administer editions of El Espectador post take-off becomes the stuff of whimsy. We are indeed grateful that our narrator survives an assault by lightning on the oldest Boeing 727 in commercial service on route to Quito; surpassed in mirabilia only by a later flight on the delightfully bijou propeller plane to Buenos Aires. We learn later that aviation insouciance is embraced with equal vigour by the Chinese.
Observations give us the fragility, chaos, and peril of life within South American countries, and the corporate rigidity that still pervades the key South-East Asian heavy hitters. Throughout the Pacific, commonality of bureaucracy is central. Weaponised by immigration officers and plant security guards, reinforced by officialdom. So too the energetic and conscientious lower orders. Hispanic shop floor workers and Asian suits, stifled by inequality and etiquette, afford us a glimpse of old-fashioned values allied with plain old graft. Callow Chinese entrepreneurs and Korean Apprentice style boardroom shootouts aside, transformation and modernity are reserved for the sprawling cityscapes.
Standout characters are South American cooking, and Dowson’s supposedly multi-lingual colleague Jin Ae. Food is Dowson’s true travel companion. Descriptions suffuse the pages; rhapsodies champion unpretentious local fare. Effort is expended in the evocation of finding the best padarias to satisfy one’s cravings for cozinhas and pao de queijo, the presentation of a barbequed picanha, and the virility and variety of Brazilian pizza. The unadorned becomes the extraordinary. Take the Colombian dish of potatoes, chicken, corn, cream, and capers. There are hearty soups, and then it seems, there’s ajiaco.
So, to Jin Ae. An enterprising, if unpopular, employee who Dowson is sufficiently impressed with to invite on his far east business marathon. A compositional tour de force of comedic gold, she merits a concluding chapter that unquestionably serves as much needed cognitive therapy for the traumatised Dowson.