Sunday, October 28, 2012

One success secret!  

     "He who knows others is wise; He who know himself is enlightened."                                                                                             ~ ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu

(Below is a historic Lao Tzu sculpture in the outskirts of Quanzhou City in Fujian province, south China)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

'Suffering and deprivation is good for the soul.'

A timely and very down-to-earth message which does not "comfort" only the Singaporeans, but this could benefit all of us. It's not because she is the daughter of Lee Kuan Yew and not because she is a well-established medical doctor in neuroscience, but as a rightful citizen of Singapore who shares its obligation and responsibility.

There may be policy issues which we disagree with how Singapore is being "run" or "managed". The message delivered here however does reflect where we are now - sitting in the midst of this financial turmoil and where we are going!

Please do yourself a favor. Do read to the end. A nice and touching article to read. Plenty of foods for thought. This letter is beautifully "crafted" in English. It is a shining example of how English should be "written".

This message was forwarded to me via email yesterday by Chinese Commercial News Publisher Solomon Yuyitung, including the Prof. Lee Wei Ling essay. Thanks!

Philippine Star columnist William "Billy" M.  Esposo also shared this Prof. Lee essay in his column on March 8, 2009 with the following words:

What we can learn from Lee Kuan Yew's daughter

"Ever since my sister Dorothy was based in Singapore, following her appointment as the ASEAN Regional Head of Bayer Corporate Communications some five years ago, my wife and I found ourselves visiting her there occasionally.

"Every time I land in Singapore, I could not help but notice how much we have been left behind. At the time when Lee Kuan Yew, now Minister Mentor, was struggling to stabilize the new State of Singapore, the Philippine economy was ranked second only to Japan in Asia. Now, we cannot even claim to be second in ASEAN.

(Photograph of Singapore Skyline #12 by Christopher Chan, sourced from website

"Recently, the year-end message of the daughter of Lee Kuan Yew, Associate Professor Lee Wei Ling, caught my attention. It was Professor Lee’s 2007 message to her staff at the National Neuroscience Institute where she is a Director. Published in their newspaper and posted online by the Sunday Times of Singapore last January 4, the message was forwarded to me by my good friend, former Senator Jun Magsaysay.

"I found this message to be loaded with the values that former Prime Minister Lee  Kuan Yew has espoused — values that formed the core of the Singapore success story.

"The superb statecraft that made Singapore successful is a mere reflection of the values its leaders lived by. Associate Professor Lee’s message underscored the good values of austerity, frugality, concern for the poor, civic consciousness and social responsibility that transformed a city State like Singapore into a modern financial center of Asia.

"How come our leaders neither epitomize nor espouse those good values? How come our people, especially our youth, tend to pick up bad lessons from our leaders instead?

"Let me now share that values loaded message with you."

Article written by Lee Wei Ling

In 2007, in an end-of-year message to the staff of the National Neuroscience Institute, I wrote:
'Whilst boom time in the public sector is never as booming as in the private sector, let us not forget that boom time is eventually followed by slump time. Slump time in the public sector is always less painful compared to the private sector.'  

Slump time has arrived with a bang. 

While I worry about the poorer Singaporeans who will be hit hard, perhaps this recession has come at an opportune time for many of us. It will give us an incentive to reconsider our priorities in life.  

Decades of the good life have made us soft. The wealthy especially, but also the middle class in Singapore, have had it so good for so long, what they once considered luxuries, they now think of as necessities.
A mobile phone, for instance, is now a statement about who you are, not just a piece of equipment for communication. Hence many people buy the latest model though their existing mobile phones are still in perfect w orking order.  

A Mercedes-Benz is no longer adequate as a status symbol. For millionaires who wish to show the world they have taste, a Ferrari or a Porsche is deemed more appropriate. 

The same attitude influences the choice of attire and accessories. I still find it hard to believe that there are people carrying handbags that cost more than thrice the monthly income of a bus driver, and many more times that of the foreign worker labouring in the hot sun, risking his life to construct luxury condominiums he will never have a chance to live in.  

The media encourages and amplifies this ostentatious consumption. Perhaps it is good to encourage people to spend more because this will prevent the recession from getting worse. I am not an economist, but wasn't that the root cause of the current crisis - Americans spending more than they could afford to?  

I am not a particularly spiritual person. I don't believe in the supernatural and I don't think I have a soul that will survive my death. But as I view the crass materialism around me, I am reminded of what my mother once told me:  'Suffering and deprivation is good for the soul.'  

My family is not poor, but we have been brought up to be frugal.. My parents and I live in the same house that my paternal grandparents and their children moved into after World War II in 1945. It is a big house by today's standards, but it is simple - in fact, almost to the point of being shabby.  

Those who see it for the first time are astonished that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's home is so humble. But it is a comfortable house, a home we have got used to. Though it does look shabby compared to the new mansions on our street, we are not bothered by the comparison. 

(The British colonial era 5-bedrooms bungalow house of Lee Kuan Yew was built a century ago by a Jewish merchant)

(This photo of Lee Kuan Yew's living room in 38 Oaxley Road is courtesy of Zhaobao newspaper)

(Another photo of the Lee Kuan Yew house, from the blog of Jessica Zafra)

Most of the world and much of Singapore will lament the economic downturn. We have been told to tighten our belts. There will undoubtedly be suffering, which we must try our best to ameliorate. 

But I personally think the hard times will hold a timely lesson for many Singaporeans, especially those born after 1970 who have never lived through difficult times. 

No matter how poor you are in Singapore , the authorities and social groups do try to ensure you have shelter and food. Nobody starves in Singapore ..  

Many of those who are currently living in mansions and enjoying a luxurious lifestyle will probably still be able to do so, even if they might have to downgrade from wines costing $20,000 a bottle to $10,000 a bottle. They would hardly notice the difference. 

Being wealthy is not a sin. It cannot be in a capitalist market economy. Enjoying the fruits of one's own labour is one's prerogative and I have no right to chastise those who choose to live luxuriously.  

But if one is blinded by materialism, there would be no end to wanting and hankering. After the Ferrari, what next? An Aston Martin? After the Hermes Birkin handbag, what can one upgrade to?  

Neither an Aston Martin nor an Hermes Birkin can make us truly happy or contented.. They are like dust, a fog obscuring the true mean ing of life, and can be blown away in the twinkling of an eye. 

When the end approaches and we look back on our lives, will we regret the latest mobile phone or luxury car that we did not acquire? Or would we prefer to die at peace with ourselves, knowing that we have lived lives filled with love, friendship and goodwill, that we have helped some of our fellow voyagers along the way and that we have tried our best to leave this world a slightly better place than how we found it?  

We know which is the correct choice - and it is within our power to make that choice. 

 In this new year, burdened as it is with the problems of the year that has just ended, let us again try to choose wisely.  

To a considerable degree, our happiness is within our own control, and we should not follow the herd blindly. 

 The writer is director of Singapore's National Neuroscience Institute. And also Lee Kuan Yew's daughter...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

US$5 billion question: What is self-made man Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corp. (SMC) of the Philippines planning to buy now? My guesses: A brewery in Asean? An Asian airline? An airport?

My Comments:
This self-made businessman Ramon Ang is amazing: he comes out of nowhere as engineer to become trusted executive of Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco, Jr., he serves with total loyalty and remarkable success, he eventually rises to become the big boss of Southeast Asia's biggest and also oldest brewery and food conglomerate, he boldly diversifies San Miguel, and how he's on the way to becoming the possible No. 1 business leader in the Philippine economy with his most breathtaking corporate maneuvers! Whew!

My wild guess is it's possible San Miguel may buy the shareholdings of Japan's Kirin beer in the Singapore brewer of Tiger beer, since coincidentally Kirin beer is also a shareholder in San Miguel?

(Image of the September 2012 issue of Summit Media's Esquire Philippines magazine)

San Miguel Declines to Identify Acquisition Target

Oct 22, 2012 (Dow Jones Commodities News Select via Comtex) --
By Cris Larano
MANILA--San Miguel Corp. (SMC.PH) on Monday declined to name an acquisition target, citing confidentiality restrictions in the negotiations on the potential investment.

San Miguel President Ramon Ang told reporters Saturday that the Philippine conglomerate is planning a 5 billion acquisition that may be completed within the year, Bloomberg reported. He said San Miguel faces other regional companies in the bidding, but didn't name the target or the industry it is in, according to the report.

San Miguel "has been invited to participate and submit a bid for a possible line with the ongoing diversification programs and initiatives implemented by the company," San Miguel corporate secretary Virgilio Jacinto told the Philippine stock exchange on Monday.

"Owing to the confidentiality obligations imposed on the company, we are not in a position to disclose the salient features of the said investment opportunity," he said.

Over the past five years, San Miguel has moved away from food and beverage to heavy industries that provide higher returns for the conglomerate. It has acquired oil refiner Petron Corp. and bought minority stakes in power distributor Manila Electric Corp., toll road operator Citra Metro Manila Tollways Corp., Philippine Airlines Inc. as well as airports, power generation companies, and infrastructure development companies. In Malaysia, San Miguel last year took control of oil refiner Esso Malaysia Bhd.

Mr. Ang has said in previous interviews that the company was looking to acquire Asian firms with international operations as well as regional carriers to help Philippine Airlines launch more flights to the U.S. and Europe.

WOW! Billionaire Hedge Fund Tycoon John Paulson Donates US$100 Million for Central Park

Billionaire John Paulson and the Paulson Family Foundation are donating $100 million to the Central Park Conservancy, the largest parks donation ever.

Paulson, 56, is founder of Paulson & Co., a New York-based hedge fund that manages $21 billion across 10 funds. Paulson was worth $11.8 billion yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. His contribution will help renovate and maintain park facilities and pay for recreation programs, said Doug Blonsky, president of the conservancy, which is responsible for its maintenance and operations. Half will bolster the park’s endowment, which now stands at $144 million, Blonsky said.

Billionaire Paulson Donates $100 Million for NYC’s Central Park

Billionaire Paulson Donates $100 Million for NYC’s Central Park
Rick Maiman/Bloomberg
John A. Paulson, president of Paulson & Co.

Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Billionaire John Paulson and the Paulson Family Foundation are donating $100 million to the Central Park Conservancy, according to a news release today. (Source: Bloomberg)

Central Park
Keyur Khamar/Bloomberg
Residential buildings line Central Park in this aerial photo taken over New York.

“The Conservancy is responsible for transforming and sustaining Central Park as the celebration of culture, nature and democracy that it is today,” Paulson said in a statement. “It is my hope that today’s contribution will help it endure and flourish.”

The park’s 843 acres (341 hectares) stretch from 59th Street to 110th Street in Manhattan and make up a leafy oasis on an island of concrete. Conservancy crews care for 250 acres of lawns, 24,000 trees, 150 acres of lakes and streams and 130 acres of woodlands, according to its website.

“Central Park is a paradise unlike anywhere else in the world today,” said Paulson, whose Fifth Avenue apartment faces the park’s east side and overlooks its reservoir. “I wanted the amount to make a difference.”

Queens Product

Paulson was raised in the middle-class Beechhurst section of Bayside, in New York’s Queens borough. As a child, his parents took him through the park in a stroller, he said. He was valedictorian at New York University and attended Harvard Business School.

After working in risk arbitrage at Bear Stearns Cos., Odyssey Partners and Gruss Partners, Paulson founded Paulson & Co. in 1994, with $2 million from friends and family.

Paulson in 2009 donated $20 million to New York University Stern School of Business and the following year, along with his wife, Jenny, donated $5 million to Southampton Hospital in New York, which named an emergency department after them.

Paulson also donated $15 million to a children’s and maternity hospital in Guayaquil, Ecuador, according to a Nov. 21, 2010 statement.

The nonprofit Central Park Conservancy was founded in 1980, according to its website. Its mission was to restore America’s foremost urban public space to the condition envisioned by its 19th-century designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. In 1998, the Conservancy and the city of New York signed a management agreement formalizing their then 18-year public- private partnership.

“Central Park has an enormous economic impact on our city -- 40 million annual visitors generating $1 billion in economic activity -- and that’s in large part due to the great work of the Central Park Conservancy, the Parks Department and the New York City Police Department, who have worked together since 1980 to restore Central Park to its glory and take it to new heights,'' Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a prepared statement. The mayor is founder and majority of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Monday, October 22, 2012

College drop-out Michael Farrell built world's largest mortgage real estate investment trust (REIT) named Annaly, an outstanding businessman and leader

My Comments on this businessman who personified success and outstanding leadership:

It is sad to read or hear praises about a good and/or successful person only after he or she dies. This is the case here of talented world-class businessman Michael A. J. Farrell, who just died at 61 years old because of cancer.

I have only read about Michael Farrell right now, after reading various obituary articles about him. He is still very young at age 61 and still at the prime of his accomplished life!

The life and business career of self-made man Michael Harrell is inspiring, and I want to share it.

(Undated picture below of Michael Farrel is from Annaly Capital Management, Inc.)

(Images below: Farrell Clan's ancient Coat of Arms in Ireland on the left and the New York-listed Annaly firm's corporate logo on the lower right side. The firm’s name "Annaly" refers to Farrell’s ancestors in Ireland who were the reigning clan of Longford and ruled from Annaly Castle, which is incorporated in the crest of the REIT’s logo. Michael Farrell is a modern self-made man with a keen sense of history.)

Michael A.J. Farrell, who built Annaly Capital Management Inc. into the world’s largest mortgage real estate investment trust, has died after being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. He was 61.

His death was confirmed yesterday in a statement by the New York-based company, which didn’t provide additional details.

Farrell, who graduated high school at 16 with plans to become a commercial artist, instead turned to Wall Street, beginning at E.F. Hutton & Co. in 1971. After stints at Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch & Co., he started Annaly in 1997 and increased assets to about $128.3 billion at the end of June, turning the firm into one of the largest buyers of home loan debt backed by the U.S. He branched out with separate companies that buy non-agency bonds and commercial real estate securities.

“Mike will be missed not only for his stature in the business, but as one of the class guys in our industry,” said Shawn Matthews, chief executive officer of Cantor Fitzgerald & Co., the brokerage arm of Cantor Fitzgerald LP. “He hired me into this business and I have always considered him a mentor, great leader and true gentleman.”

Farrell, Annaly’s chairman and CEO, was receiving chemotherapy for cancer that “was caught early” and was considered treatable, according to a company statement in January. In May, the firm disclosed it was in remission, while this month, it said Wellington Denahan-Norris, Annaly’s co- founder, was appointed joint CEO to allow Farrell to focus on his “ongoing treatment.”

‘Fantastic Leader’

Annaly has returned more than 600 percent to shareholders since its initial public offering, outpacing the 94 percent gain for the Standard & Poor's 500 index. Shareholders almost doubled their money in the past five years as Farrell and Denahan- Norris, 48, navigated the financial crisis and then forecast how Federal Reserve efforts to boost housing and the economy would impact bond markets.

The two executives each earned $35 million in 2011, making them among the world’s highest-paid financial-services executives.

“He was a fantastic leader and friend and will be greatly missed,” Annaly said in the statement. “Our hearts go out to his family and all those who were fortunate enough to know him.”

(This photo by © Susan Farley/The New York Times/Redux)

Brooklyn Born

Farrell was born on April 10, 1951 in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from high school at 16, according to an article published last year in Wake Forest MagazineHe and his wife, Mary Flynn, neither of whom completed college, committed $10 million to the school in “the largest cash commitment by a living individual in the university’s history.”

His son, Michael Edward Farrell, studied finance and economics at Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Wake Forest University, graduating in 2010. Farrell is also survived by his wife and their children Caitlin, a 2008 graduate of College of the Holy Cross, and Taylor. In addition, he’s survived by Kelly, a daughter from his first marriage, and two grandchildren.

Farrell’s parents, Michael John and Vera, left Europe for the U.S. after World War II, during which the elder Farrell served as a member of the Irish Guards, nearly dying in the Operation Market Garden attack in September 1944. Once in Manhattan, he waterproofed skyscrapers, painted subway cars and worked as a janitor at an elementary school before dying in 1986 at age 66, according to the magazine.

Trading Bonds

Farrell told the publication he wanted to be a rock star after giving up on becoming an artist. Instead he ended up trading bonds, specializing in mortgages. In 1991, while head of fixed income at Wertheim Schroder & Co., where he also hired Cantor Fitzgerald’s Matthews, he met Denahan-Norris, with whom he founded Annaly six years later.

Farrell had concluded that REITs and mortgage bonds were a “perfect marriage between asset class and vehicle structure,” in part because they can be “buy-and-hold” investors, he said in a Bloomberg story in April. Unlike hedge funds or many mutual funds, REIT shareholders can’t withdraw money from the firms. Instead they buy and sell shares in the companies.

Farrell stood out for his colorful conference calls and shareholder letters that discussed broader themes through historical allusions and literature such as Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” and the 1970 book “Future Shock” by Alvin Toffler.

Bond Yields

While Annaly has benefited as the Fed held short-term interest rates near zero to bolster the economy, its shares have declined 6.1 percent through Oct. 19 since the central bank said in September it would purchase an additional $40 billion of mortgage securities a month.

That’s pushed down bond yields, narrowed spreads and reduced homeowner borrowing costs -- squeezing earnings and dividends for mortgage REITs. Annaly said Oct. 16 it may repurchase up to $1.5 billion of shares over a year.

The shares declined 0.5 percent today as of 9:42 a.m. in New York, compared with a 1 percent drop for a Bloomberg index of mortgage REITs.

The firm’s name refers to Farrell’s ancestors in Ireland who were the reigning clan of Longford and ruled from Annaly Castle, which is incorporated in the crest of the REIT’s logo, Wake Forest Magazine reported.

Below is a short bio-data of Michael Farrell:

Mr. Farrell is the Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Annaly and FIDAC. Prior to founding Annaly and FIDAC, Mr. Farrell was a Managing Director for Wertheim Schroder and Co., Inc. in the Fixed Income Department. He has previously served on the Executive Committee of the Public Securities Association Primary Dealers Division and as Chairman of the Primary Dealers Operations Committee and its Mortgage Backed Securities Division. Mr. Farrell serves on the Executive Board of the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT), is Chairman of the Board of Visitors of the Wake Forest Schools of Business, member of the Board of Trustees of Wake Forest University, a director of the U.S. Dollar Floating Rate Fund and Chairman of the Maeve Foundation.
Why are Chinese entrepreneurs successful?

I am posting a column I had written in the Philippine Star newspaper over two years ago.

(Below is an image of the early overseas Chinese traders of the Qing dynasty in Southeast Asia, who used the ababus for their quick and efficient computations)

Bull Market, Bull Sheet By Wilson Lee Flores

The Philippine Star

February 22, 2010

Photo is loading...
The beginnings of Philippine capitalism: A Chinese trader sells his wares.

The important thing is not being afraid to take a chance. Remember, the greatest failure is to not try. Once you find something you love to do, be the best at doing it.                — Debbi Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies

Nobody talks about entrepreneurship as survival, but that’s exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking. Running that first shop taught me business is not financial science; it’s about trading: buying and selling.                    — Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop

One of the most dynamic and gutsiest ladies I have ever met was my neighbor here in The Philippine STAR’s Business Life section, Josefina “Josie” Trinidad Lichauco. She was an honors graduate of the University of the Philippines (UP) Law School with a master’s degree from Yale University. She was outspoken in her crusade against the excessive political corruption in Philippine society.

During social occasions when I would see her, she would always greet me and chat, telling me that we should one time talk at length about politics, economics and art over lunch or dinner. The last time that she talked to me was when she called via cell phone, and she told me she’d like to invite me to see the oil paintings bequeathed to her by her late dad, stockbroker and art collector Don Anselmo Trinidad, at her condo in The Fort. She knew that I admire art.

I hope our leaders competing in the May elections will emulate Josie Lichauco’s intelligence, guts, idealism, devotion to family, sense of humor and integrity.

* * *
(Chinese characters for "business" pronounced as "seng yi" in Mandarin)

On Feb. 13 on the eve of Chinese Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day, DZMM radio station’s Teleradyo hosts Carl Balita and Chinkee Tan invited me for an interview about Chinese entrepreneurial success secrets and practices. Here are some of the interesting questions from the hosts and their listeners’ phoned-in queries, I have also added some questions e-mailed by Philippine STAR readers:

• Why are many Chinese entrepreneurs seemingly masungit (unfriendly)?

I think it is not so much being unfriendly as it is being too serious. I believe ethnic Chinese people are like the Germans of Europe or the Jews of New York, who are by nature too serious in disposition, and so striking other people as “unfriendly.”

In stark contrast, non-Chinese Filipinos of Malay heritage are generally happier in disposition and more easygoing. In fact, compared to other island-nation peoples of Southeast Asia, the Philippines has been surveyed to be among “the happiest people” in the region. In Europe, Germans in general are considered “unfriendly” but actually are just more serious than the more easygoing Greeks or Italians of southern Europe.

(Jewish Traders and Merchants, Printed by Auguste Bry Giclee Print.This giclée print delivers a vivid image with maximum color accuracy and exceptional resolution ideal for museums or galleries.)

On the Chinese being masungit, I wish to add that there’s also regional differences in disposition among ethnic Chinese, similar to Ilocanos being considered different in temperament to Kapampangans or Ilonggos. One stark example are the Cantonese Chinese of Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong province, who are considered masungit by the more easygoing Hokkien or south Fujian people who predominate the Chinese communities of Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia.

By the way, Cantonese Chinese are also more aggressive, gutsy, and cook better Chinese food than many of us of Hokkien, Min-nan or south Fujian heritage. Even the Cantonese dialect of Hong Kong sounds similar to Germanic languages compared to our Hokkien or Min-nan dialect, which the native Taiwanese call the “Taiwanese” dialect.

• Why are many of the Chinese in the Philippines and Southeast Asia in business?

(Images of early Chinese traders in Spanish colonial era Philippines)

During the colonial era when the Spanish people ruled the Philippines for 333 years, our archipelago was a very feudal agrarian economy with virtually no trade, commerce or real industry. The Spaniards monopolized political and religious power, plus vast landholdings called haciendas, while the local Tagalogs, Cebuanos, Ilocanos and other peoples were mostly either farmers or fishermen.

The Chinese sojourners were outsiders to this feudal setup. The Chinese were called called “Intsik” in Tagalog. It originated from the Hokkien term “In-Tsyak,” or “uncle,” thus the Cojuangcos’ revered clan founder was called “Intsik Jose” by locals and “Inkong” Jose by family members (“Ingkong” being the Hokkien word for “grandfather”).  The early Chinese were also called “Sangleyes” by the Spaniards.

(Image below of the invitation card of the Association of Young Filipino Chinese Entrepreneurs to their 20th anniversary dinner reception at the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati City, Metro Manila, the Philippines in 2012 which shows a picture of traditional junk boats used by early overseas Chinese migrants who sojourned from China to Southeast Asia and other parts of the world in search of economic opportunities)

The Chinese who came could not go into farming because local peoples were already the farmers, and they were not allowed to own land; they were also for generations barred from becoming lawyers or professionals, so many of the Chinese started out as laborers, craftsmen, artisans and later became traders who pioneered the beginnings of Philippine capitalism, according to economist Dr. Bernardo Villegas in his essay in the Ayala family history book.

Like the Jewish minorities of medieval-era Europe, who often acted as middlemen traders and moneylenders between the landed aristocracy and the general public, the Chinese minority in the colonial Philippine society often acted as apolitical middlemen traders and financiers, too.

(Artistic image of Jewish moneylenders in year 1270 of medieval France)

(Below is a miniature painting gothic art of Jewish moneylenders, circa 14th century, in the British Museum)

• Why are many Chinese entrepreneurs worldwide, from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and other places quite successful?

I believe the traditional Confucian values of hard work, self-discipline, delayed self-gratification for the sake of long-term future benefits, frugality, a high importance placed on education, xiao-sun or filial piety of total obedience and reverence for ancestors and parents, are important factors in entrepreneurial success.

The only times when ethnic Chinese societies floundered economically were those times when the governments were extremely corrupt, causing political instability, or during the radical anti-business periods of Mao Zedong’s leftist Cultural Revolution, which tried to suppress personal initiatives and entrepreneurial spirit.

(The ancient philosopher and teacher Confucius, whose teachings influenced much of East Asia)

(The Taipei Confucius Temple in Taiwan on September 28, the birthday of the great teacher)

(Confucius monument in Jurong Gardens, Singapore)

• Can non-Chinese Filipinos be similar to the Chinese entrepreneurs of Asia?

Yes, because all of us are Asians, and I believe traditional Filipino values should exorcise the negative cultural influences of the Spanish colonizers that are very bad for free enterprise, such as the notorious “mañana (tomorrow) habit,” the wrongly labeled “Filipino time,” the excesses of the siesta or fiesta habits.

Proof that cultural and attitudinal change can be possible are the eight million or more overseas Filipino workers and migrants scattered worldwide who are diligent in their professions. I hope the Philippines as a society will not forget that we are geographically in Asia. We should rediscover our Asian roots and learn from our many neighbors in East Asia.

(A special lane for overseas Filipino workers in Philippine airports)

• Is it true that Chinese entrepreneurs always help each other and cooperate?

This is a misconception, to a certain degree. Chinese entrepreneurs do help others if one is part of my network of suppliers, creditors, or customers. For example, in the early 20th century, my grandfather Lee Tay assisted migrant workers from his native barrio of Chio-Chun Village who had the same Lee/Dee/Dy surname in operating their own prewar lumber firms in San Pablo City, Laguna; Dagupan City, Pangasinan; Sta. Cruz, Laguna, in Tarlac; other provinces of the Visayas, etc.

Those kin or former employers of his became his customers, to whom his sawmill in Manila supplied lumber on credit. This might look like “help,” but looks to me like modern-day franchising with supplier/creditor-customer relations. The important thing there is shinyong, or trustworthiness. My great-great-grandfather Dy Han Kia in 19th-century Manila had four lumber businesses with many dealers/clients outside Manila who received his “help.” However, more than business “help,” competition is worse and the most cutthroat among fellow Chinese entrepreneurs.

In fact, the Chinese by nature are culturally and genetically more individualistic than the Japanese are, so look at the shopping mall rivalry between Henry Sy and John Gokongwei Jr.; look at the many Chinese sibling rivalries in business. That is the reason many Chinese family businesses all over Asia tend to splinter into different individual units, thus promoting more small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Cooperation is there if there is a need for it in civic causes, promoting Chinese culture or education, or trade industry advocacies, but one real secret (which also often can be a weakness) of Chinese entrepreneurs is their fierce competitiveness.

(Chinese character for the surname Li, pronounced as "Lee" in Mandarin and "Dy" or "Dee" in Hokkien)

• What are some of the practices of Chinese entrepreneurs?

There are many age-old Chinese business practices, some of them written down thousands of years ago by ancient taipan Tao Zhu Gong. One favorite Chinese business principle is the strategy of being content with low profit margins and aiming for high sales volumes. This requires infinite patience, perseverance and dexterity.

Look at SM, Sun Cellular, Jack n’ Jill, Jollibee, Bench, Mang Inasal and the popular 168 Mall in the heart of Divisoria, Manila — low profit margins for high sales volumes.

(A book on Tao Zhu-gong's business ideas, published in April 2001 by Prentice Hall Regents)

(Image of Tao Zhu Gong from an Indonesian website)

• What can people without capital learn from Chinese entrepreneurs?  

We should encourage frugality in the Philippines, we should promote a higher savings rate nationwide. The Spanish and American colonizers of our society tended to have the free-spending “fiesta” and credit-card mentality, unlike traditional Chinese communities that value thrift. As long we can save money, there is better financial security in the future; there is the possible option of doing small business.

Another challenge is to avoid too much debt. Taking on credit is not bad and the wise use of loans is very good, but we should also be careful not to get into too much debt. Whether in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines or Europe, Chinese entrepreneurs who still retain traditional Confucian values are by habit frugal and prefer to save money.

Whether startup entrepreneurs, housewives, students, employees, professionals or even governments, it is not healthy to spend more than what we earn, it is not healthy to have deficits, it is not good to have too many loans. We need to save for a better future.

(Below is image of a Chinese-style fortune cookie, with words encouraging the Confucian virtue of frugality. Source: 2009 image from the "Pen & Fork" food blog of chef Gwen Ashley Walters)

(Another frugality image from the blog Sonnet Studios, using words of wisdom by Benjamin Franklin)

* * *

Thanks for your letters, all will be answered. E-mail or follow WilsonLeeFlores on or "like" Wilson Lee Flores page on Facebook.