Arthur Andersen steels itself for the coming campaign

MR Richard Measelle, the Chicago-based chief of giant accounting firm Arthur Andersen, does not expect the battle for China market share to be won easily, conceding that: ''We'll have to be prepared to lose some people.'' But the problem, while potentially serious, will not require eulogies.

To meet its target of 1,000 professionals working in China within seven years, Arthur Andersen will undertake a massive staff education and training programme - a process that will surely make its best people prize catches for corporate headhunters.

''We would like to develop a reputation as the best firm in China,'' said Mr Measelle, in Hongkong on his way to a regional group management gathering in Shanghai and meetings with mainland joint-venture partners and government officials.

If successful, the financial services group fully expects to see its staff poached by rivals and Chinese businesses looking for local professionals with expertise in Western accounting and business practice.

''Accounting is the language of business. China recognises it needs to learn it to recognise its dreams, just like it needs more electricity and better infrastructure,'' Mr Measelle said.

Arthur Andersen has been in China since opening a representative office in Beijing in 1983.

It added a Shanghai office in 1987 and in 1991 started opened a wholly owned consulting firm in Shanghai which allowed it to recruit direct from mainland universities.

The firm further strengthened its position last September by forming the Hua Qiang joint venture, a mainland operation now at work in Shenzhen which will move to take over existing Arthur Andersen operations.

Mr Measelle's firm appears to have garnered strong credentials in its short China history.

Apart from having Mr Lu Ping, head of the Hongkong and Macau Affairs Office, address its executives at a meeting in Houston in October, Arthur Andersen has been involved in several B-share listings as the reporting accountant.

It also worked on the first stock market listing of a mainland group in New York, Brilliance China Automotive.

''We're going to have to run like crazy to keep up with the market we see developing in China for our accounting and audit practice,'' said Mr Measelle, who is the chief executive of his firm's audit tax and business advisory services worldwide, its mainarm of business.

''One of the difficulties we face is deciding what resources to allocate to developing this market,'' he said.

Mr Measelle added that China would take just about whatever his firm could throw at it, ''but we have a capacity to invest in China few others have''.