NO. 1 PHILANTHROPIST IN CHINA IS EX-BINONDO TRADER
KUNMING CITY, CHINA, JANUARY 31, 2007 (STAR) BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET By Wilson Lee Flores - It is not true that the biggest Philippine investors in China are San Miguel Corp. (started by ex-CEO Andres Soriano III, but now all Chinese investments are being expanded under big boss Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr.), Jollibee founder Tony Tan Caktiong, Lucio Tan, Henry Sy, John Gokongwei Jr. or low-key Oishi snack foods taipan Carlos Chan (whose younger brother is the more famous Ben Chan of Bench, and who, I heard, helped the Philippine government establish the Philippine Consulate in Shanghai).
One of the many amazing discoveries I made during my six-week tour of various regions in China and nonstop conversations with its young entrepreneurs is that the No. 1 philanthropist of the booming Chinese economy is surprisingly a former Binondo trader and Fujian-born new immigrant to the Philippines named Huang Rulun. Like many of Asia’s greatest taipans, such as Genting Highlands founder Lim Goh Tong of Malaysia, Li Ka Shing of Hong Kong, Tan Kah Kee of Singapore, or Formosa Plastics Group founder Wang Yung Ching of Taiwan, Huang was born to a poor farming family in the rural part of Fujian province in Linjiang county. He couldn’t afford formal schooling, so he never forgot how hard life was as a poor person. He told media that he has been motivated to be philanthropic due to the ancient Confucian teaching that "successful people should give."
Huang Rulun is the legendary 56-year-old rags-to-riches taipan behind the Jinyuan Group or the Golden Resources realty and investment conglomerate. Even the New York Times and other foreign media outfits reported about him in recent years for his mega-projects, like the world’s biggest mall in Beijing, and for being China’s No. 1 philanthropist from 2003 to 2005.
I urge President Gloria M. Arroyo to immediately dispatch our Philippine Ambassador to Beijing, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. president Francis Chua, or her special tourism envoy Alfredo Yao of Zest-O juice/RC Cola to contact Rulun to woo him back to our country as a big-time investor, philanthropist or at least to be one of the promoters of Philippine-China economic exchanges.
The first time I heard of this tycoon was last year from his friend, the corrugated box and tin can industrialist Larry Tan Villareal, during lunch with other low-key taipans, such as Enrique Cheng of Landmark Department Store, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. honorary president Jimmy Tang of Avesco Group, my late father’s friend and lumber industry colleague Sotero Lee, and others.
The Chinese media reported that the 2005 list of 50 top philanthropists in China, researched seperately by Westerner Rupert Hoogewerf and by Chinese scholar Hu Yun, showed that they donated about three percent of their private assets to charities focusing mainly on education and health care. Of all of China’s top 50 philanthropists, Huang Rulun has been the most magnanimous – he donated about $48 million from 2003 to 2004. What is more significant, while other good-hearted new tycoons of China averaged donations three percent of their private assets, Huang’s philanthropic donations amounted to 19 percent of his private assets. His top charities were in education, poverty elimination and heath care. School Dropout Becomes World Mall Leader Aside from owning big luxury hotels, like the five-star Century Golden Resources Grand Hotel in Beijing, Huang Rulun also developed Beijing’s largest commercial and residential development project known as Century City, which has total land area of 440 acres. The New York Times once reported that he is the biggest shopping mall developer-owner in the world because this complex has 110 residential condominiums, complete with schools and office buildings. This sprawling complex has 3.7 million square meters of prime real estate.
Among his contributions in recent years is $3.5 million for Peking University, for poverty relief in Yunnan Province, and for the construction of a Women and Children Center in his ancestral province of south Fujian. Chinese media reported that Huang gives to charities spontaneously, such as his donation of $1.5 million for Chongqing City after he watched a TV report on the poor quality of school buildings, the poor conditions of students, and the low salaries of teachers in an area in this mountain city.
Huang is a pragmatic person. He once turned down his son’s suggestion to establish a philanthropic foundation, because he believes that his core competence was in entrepreneurship and business. So, he would rather focus on where he is good at and just write out checks to donate to socio-civic causes.
A couple of years ago, Huang pledged $22 million to develop the Jiangxia College in his hometown in south Fujian province, and he rebuilt the Huang Rulun High School in his birthplace. When he first came to the Chinese media limelight in 2005, records showed that on top of Huang Rulun’s total philanthropic donations amounting to $35 million, he paid taxes of $600 million. More than just being a philanthropist, Huang is a rare example in Asia of being an upright businessman who honestly pays his taxes regardless of the widespread corruption in governments across our continent.
Despite his family’s poverty, their chok-pho or genealogical book, which all Chinese families have regardless of social class unlike in Europe where only royal families record their lineage, one of Huang Rulun’s ancestors was Huang Gan, a student and son-in-law of the well-known neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi who lived 1,000 years ago in the southern Song Dynasty. He kept telling media that traditional Confucian values guide his life and motivate his generous charities.
The usually low-profile Huang has become famous in China, and his rags-to-riches saga includes an important interlude in the rugged trading area of Manila’s Binondo/Divisoria Chinatown area, which has been producing tycoons since the Spanish colonial era to the John Gokongweis and Lucio Tans of the modern era. A school dropout at 15 due to poverty, while his rich and middle-class peers were studying or busy dating, he was already doing small businesses then in Fujian province. His big break came when he was 35 years old and migrated to the Philippines in the 1980s following centuries-tradition of Fujianese emigration to Manila, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Jakarta and other places in Nanyang or the South Seas.
Filipino Chinese tycoons said Huang used to live in a modest condominium unit in Binondo Terraces, and he started with a modest capital, but he was a workaholic, disciplined, frugal and always had big dreams. After a few years of doing trade in Binondo to add to his capital and international perspective, he then decided to set up base in the international financial hub of Hong Kong like Malaysia’s Shangri-La Group taipan Robert Kuok Hock-Nien. From there, his built up his realty empire with projects in Singapore, Malaysia, and Spain.
Another milestone in Huang’s meteoric business career was his returning to his ancestral home of Fujian province in 1991, and the savvy self-made taipan eventually made himself the biggest property developer in the provincial capital city of Fuzhou. In 1999, Huang moved away from the province to turn his sights on the capital city and 2008 host of the Olympic Games with his first project in Beijing of the Century Jiayuan in Beijing’s Olympic Village. Later, success prompted Huang to embark on the ambitious 3.7-million-square-meter Century City development. He is now one of Beijing’s top realty developers and his being an overseas Chinese taipan with experience in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Singapore has gained him business alliances from some overseas Chinese investors from the region.
Unlike other developers who take two or three years to complete their projects, Huang prides himself on fast development of even the biggest projects in only a year on average per project, thus enhancing his credibility. His diverse projects include residential condominiums, shopping malls, luxury hotels and others. One of his numerous projects all over China is a massive new complex here in Yunnan province in southwest China with total costs of $1 billion. Huang foresees his conglomerate as becoming more active in energy development, in view of China’s sizzling economy, needing higher supplies of oil and other sources of energy.
Today, Huang Rulun’s Golden Resources empire nationwide has four major centers covering the north of China from Beijing, the east region with Shanghai, the west region with Chongqing, and the south region with Fuzhou City.
Hardworking, known for meticulous attention to details and for his hands-on management style, and his having the family at the core of his empire, the self-made taipan Huang Rulun’s only known hobby is the occasional golf he plays very rarely due to his hectic daily work schedule. He personally inspects his various construction sites at least three times a day.
In the taipan’s Beijing corporate headquarters, hanging on the wall is a scroll with elegant traditional Chinese calligraphy written by the self-taught Huang Rulun, which summarizes his business and life philosophies: "Honesty and credibility are the foundation stones of a pioneering business. Nurturing people is the basis of founding a country, and the combination of these two allows people to sit in a command tent, creating strategies that will ensure victory a thousand miles away... A person of integrity is also a sincere one; he keeps his word, makes good whatever he promises, and at the same time, he should take social responsibility."
Whenever I hear cynics tell me that the Philippines is a hopeless case or that fabulous rags-to-riches sagas can no longer happen in the 21st century era of high-tech Bill Gates or Google, I will now tell them the remarkable and inspiring saga of Huang Rulun who not only became fabulously wealthy but has become the most respected philanthropist in the ongoing China economic miracle.
I can never forget John Gokongwei Jr. saying that the future business leaders of the Philippines may not be the heirs of taipans like him, but from the hardworking and often harassed new immigrant young traders in Binondo, Divisoria, 168 Mall, Baclaran or Quiapo in Manila. Many Philippine-born ethnic Chinese youths are too Westernized in values, too spoiled, too effete, not different from the many scions of the traditional power elite families. I remember Gokongwei saying that it’s very possible new future tycoons and business prime movers of the Philippine economy may also come from the ranks of small provinciano traders and entrepreneurs you don’t see hogging the media limelight, but working quietly day and night somewhere out there in Antique or Leyte or Nueva Vizcaya or Tawi-Tawi. Watch out and be awed!
Nothing is impossible for those who dream, and who are willing to work hard, sacrifice and pay the price for attaining their dreams!
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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