Unicorn startups create the world’s youngest billionaires at present. Still, the admiration goes to those who managed to stay on top for so many years.
Between the old and the new, the easier choice would be to listen to those whose careers span almost a century.
Take, for example, Teo Siong Seng, the chairman of Pacific International Lines Pte Ltd. His father’s words were what kept him grounded during the most trying time in his leadership.
Teo is one of the 14 children of Chang Yun Chung, who Forbes listed in March as the oldest billionaire. He has a net worth of $1.9 billion at the age of 99.
Chang was born in 1918 which makes him 100 years old today. He founded Pacific International Lines in 1967 but already passed the leadership to his son in March. Still, the Singaporean billionaire visits the office every day. With him is a diary where he writes down all his daily activities to keep his mind active.
When Teo accepted the responsibility, he embarked on a journey of guiding a company which is among the world’s top 20. He found himself herding the company’s 18,000 employees.
Patience is one problem that Teo said he has been working on as a middle-aged executive. He was known among his workers as one tough leader. He even described himself as bad-tempered.
“But my father taught me one thing, in Chinese, it’s ‘yi de fu ren’ — that means you want people to obey you, not because of your authority, not because of your power, or because you are fierce, but more because of your integrity, your quality, that people actually respect you and listen to you,” Teo told CNBC in an interview earlier in December.
His father’s lesson proved to be effective when as a managing director Teo had to negotiate with pirates who held the crew of one of the company’s ships hostage in 2009. The hijacking took place off the coast of East Africa and Teo had to endure 75 days of negotiations for the crew’s released. Staying calm was the one thing that made him committed to bringing back his employees to their families.
Indeed, in Chang’s long years in the business industry, he said he never lose his temper.
“When you lose your temper, you just cannot control yourself,” he said.
The oldest billionaire also values hard work and honesty. For him, honesty is given to everyone no matter what their places in society. What he promised, he fulfills whether it be for his superiors or for his employees.
These are the same values that Chang carried with him when he started his career in the Singapore shipping industry for the first time in 1949. It was his hard work that brought him to Singapore as a Chinese immigrant who graduated from the Xiamen Datung College. It was his patience and honesty that guided him through the 18 years of being an employee for another company. It took him jobs after jobs, one company after another before he was able to build his own. And the rest, so they say, is history.
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