For more than a decade across three continents, Olivier Candiotti brokered deals for French companies abroad. A career civil servant with France’s ministry of finance, Mr Candiotti has spent the past four years in China, working seven-day weeks to convince French companies to invest there.

But this year, Mr Candiotti decided he had brought enough French investors to the brink of a deal, only to see them bow out “exactly at the moment that they take the decision [to invest] – many times because they took my advice.”

Now he is working on the other side of the table. In August, Mr Candiotti resigned to form a consultancy, Euro China Capital, advising European companies on investing in China and also on selling themselves to Chinese buyers.

“In Europe and in France . . . we have lots of companies without any successor, any people able to take [over] the business, businesses not big enough
to become a big [player],”
he says.

Mr Candiotti’s move is timely. As Chinese companies look to expand internationally through acquisitions, they are becoming attractive stewards for ailing businesses elsewhere.

The China International Fair for Investment and Trade, held in the southern port city of Xiamen in September, attracted an unprecedented number of international officials hoping to lure Chinese investors.

Chinese companies, many of whom face margin-eroding competition at home, are exploring their options overseas. Last December, Lenovo acquired IBM’s personal computer division. TCL bought Thomson’s television and DVD player operations the year before.

Mr Candiotti says he has exclusive mandates from two French companies – a luxury goods group and a speciality furniture maker – to find them Chinese partners. Both are financially strapped and hope Chinese investors could help.

But external investment in China is still far greater than Chinese investment abroad: foreign investors pumped $61bn into China in 2004, compared with the country’s overseas investment of $5.5bn.

Mr Candiotti, who formed the company with Olivier Marc, a former banker, expects shortly to sign an agreement with an industrial zone in Shunde, a wealthy factory city in southern China’s Guangdong province, to attract French companies to invest.

Mr Candiotti stresses that he hopes to attract European investment to other parts of the country. He and Mr Marc enlisted Thierry Dana, former adviser to the French president who now consults for French companies in China, to work with them on selected projects.

Sitting in a Hong Kong coffee shop, Mr Candiotti admits his decision to relinquish his civil servant’s diplomatic passport and job security might have been surprising to some. But, he says: “I don’t want to miss out on China over the next 10, 15 years . . . even if it is a little bit risky . . . really, this is the place to be.”

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