Genius Conversations

Asia's Business Leaders and What We Can Learn from Them

Li Ka Shing, Jack Ma—these businessmen would not have made extraordinary achievements without having extraordinary attitudes

Wilson Lee Flores

Genius Conversations

SOMETHING EXTRAORDINARY. It takes extraordinary attitude to achieve extraordinary success.

Asia has now become the world’s most dynamic and fastest-growing economic region, thanks to our many good entrepreneurs. A few have built world-class enterprises and are at the forefront of socio-economic development. I have had the privilege to meet and interview some of these achievers and listened to their winning perspectives. Here are lessons of success and attributes from some of Asia’s business giants which I believe we can all use.

Vision of Japan’s Tadashi Yanai (Uniqlo)

A day before the opening of Uniqlo’s first Philippine retail store at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City, I was invited to have an exclusive one-on-one interview with Japan’s wealthiest billionaire Tadashi Yanai. What most impressed me was that this casual-clothed tycoon already had a long-term vision of what and where he hopes to bring Uniqlo to and it wasn’t just big profits. He told me then that he wanted his fashion brand to surpass his competitor— Zara, currently the world’s biggest fashion retailer.

Whether we aspire to become the world’s No. 1, or the richest entrepreneur in our industry, or even something as “simple” as being the No. 1 in your workplace, etc., we should emulate Tadashi Yanai’s long-range vision or goal. Where do we want to be 5, 10 or 20 years down the road, what are our goals and lofty dreams? Putting it in concrete terms allows you to have a direction to go to.

 

Brand-building of Malaysia’s Robert Kuok (Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts)

The 95-year-old Robert Kuok Hock Nien has not only become Malaysia’s wealthiest and, no doubt, most successful entrepreneur—from sugar to tourism, he has also singularly and consistently built and led to global success, his own home-grown, good-quality “Shangri-La” luxury brand of hotels and resorts.

Becoming rich in commodity trading like sugar or efficiency in manufacturing, all these are admirable feats, but I believe the bigger and more difficult challenge for business people is how to create and consistently sustain an internationally-recognized and well-loved brand such as “Shangri-La”. To do that, one should have a clear view of what the brand is, where it’s headed, and to have the self-control to consistently stick to your vision even when the road toward it is harder. Even for professionals and for individuals, we can be inspired by Robert’s success by seeking to build up our own personal brand and developing a clear vision of what that brand is.

Healthy lifestyle of Taiwan’s Y. C Wang (Formosa Plastics)

One of the most unforgettable tycoons I’ve ever met is the late “rags-to-riches” Wang Yung Ching, who became the “Plastics King” and the most admired entrepreneur of Taiwan during his heydays. When Y. C. Wang came to the Philippines, his good friend, the late real estate tycoon Tan Yu, asked me to accompany him for three days and to assist as his interpreter because he spoke only Hokkien (the southern Fujian dialect which is called “Taiwanese” in Taiwan), Mandarin and some Japanese, but no English. At the airport, the old man declined my offer to help with his hand-carry luggage because he could do it himself. And well, he really could. At the age he was then, he looked remarkably fit. And I found out why in the three days I was with him. He personified “healthy lifestyle.” He ate healthy and simple foods. He slept daily at 9 p.m. every night. Never smoked. Ran and swam daily after waking up at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. And he never faltered. Not once.

 

Work ethic of Hong Kong’s Li Ka-Shing (Watsons, Cheung Kong Holdings)

First Pacific Group and PLDT/Smart CEO Manuel “Manny” V. Pangilinan once shared to me an anecdote from his years of working and rising up the corporate ladder in Hong Kong. MVP said that he used to share the same office building with Hong Kong’s reputed “Superman” and wealthiest billionaire, the self-made entrepreneur Li Ka Shing.

Once on a Sunday morning, MVP decided to pass by his office to get something and he was surprised to see Li Ka Shing walking into the same office building, so he asked the security guard and discovered that Li still worked on Sundays!

We business people or professionals do not have to work on Sundays, weekends or holidays, but what MVP’s anecdote on Li Ka Shing illustrates is that most of us do not realize that behind the successes of many great people is often a great work ethic. Let us work hard too!

Strong will of South Korea’s Chung Ju Yung (Hyundai)

Years ago in the 1990s, one remarkable entrepreneur whom I was able to meet in the Philippines was the late South Korean construction, cars and shipbuilding industrialist Chung Ju Yung of Hyundai. He flew in to Manila to fulfill a personal commitment to stand as godfather at a wedding, even though a few days before, one of his sons had a tragic death.

At a luncheon with some top businessmen, I couldn’t forget the stern-looking and robust Chung remarking: “People who eat more than two meals a day cannot become successful.” Of course I love to eat many meals and was taken aback by this remark, and I do believe that this statement wasn’t entirely accurate, but I admire him for saying that since it just reflected his uncommon and extraordinary strong will.

 

PLDT-Smart top honcho Manny V. Pangilinan’s anecdote on Li Ka Shing illustrates what most of us do not realize, that behind the successes of many great people is often a great work ethic.

Innovative spirit of China’s Jack Ma (Alibaba)

During Jack Ma’s trip to Manila to accept an honorary doctorate degree from De La Salle University to meet Philippine President Rody R. Duterte and to forge a business partnership with the Ayala Group, I was invited to witness that afternoon event held in Glorietta mall in Makati City.

Alibaba.com’s legendary billionaire founder Jack Ma has been praised for his humility, work ethic, social idealism, and perseverance, but what has struck me about his life and career is his being at the cutting edge of technological revolution and innovation that is now changing the whole world. He said and I think all of us should heed him: “Adopt and change before any major trends or changes.” Let us seek and do nonstop innovation!

Innovation doesn’t just mean upgrading ourselves with technology, but it is also the challenge of constantly renewing ourselves, refreshing our minds with new knowledge, and changing and improving ourselves. So learn as much as you can, as often as you can. Innovate and don’t be afraid of change. Do these and you’ll be fine. Otherwise, you’ll be left behind.

 

Philanthropy of Singapore’s “Rubber King” Tan Kah Kee

The 20th century rubber commodities tycoon Tan Kah Kee of Singapore and Malaysia wasn’t just respected all over Asia for his entrepreneurial success or wealth, but for leading a simple life and donating the bulk of his fortune to philanthropy—education of his people.

Tan Kah Kee—“Chen Jiageng” in Mandarin—donated and built China’s first privately-funded university, the beautiful, seaside Xiamen University. He donated and built five schools and institutes in his ancestral hometown in Jimei, Fujian province of south China, which has consolidated to the present-day Jimei University.

In Singapore and Malaysia, Tan Kah Kee gave selfless donations to support various schools. He also led many entrepreneurs and civic groups of Southeast Asia in the 1930s as chairman of the coalition called Nanyang General Relief Association, which gave support for China’s war of resistance against Japanese military invasion. His vice-chairman was my grand-uncle, the late Chinabank founder Dee C. Chuan of the Philippines.

I believe that in our own humble ways, we can emulate the late Tan Kah Kee’s greatest success of having epitomized philanthropy and civic generosity by helping others and contributing to meaningful socio-civic causes.  

About the Author

WILSON LEE FLORES is a multi-awarded writer, college professor, real estate agent, economics and geopolitics analyst, baker, art collector, poet, public speaker, and philanthropist. He has won a record 15 Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) for his “Philippine Star” newspaper columns and three Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. He has also been honored with a record three CMMA Hall of Fame Awards, including CMMA Hall of Fame Awards for “Best Business Column” and "Best Opinion Column". Having bought and revived the pioneer, artisanal, 79-year-old Kamuning Bakery Cafe of Quezon City, he has added entrepreneur in his long list of creds. Follow @wilsonleeflores on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.



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