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Early Bird Exec Fred Pai

Gaining Insight through Morning Contemplation

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Among the growing ranks of early risers are more than a few corporate leaders. Polaris Financial Group vice chairman Fred Pai uses the morning hours to gather his thoughts, and hearken to his muses.

Gaining Insight through Morning Contemplation

By Ming-Ling Hsieh
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 390 )

It's four in the morning, but Polaris Financial Group vice chairman Fred Pai is already seated at his desk in a room on the second floor of his home.

Pai's habit of getting up before the crack of dawn began 18 years ago, when he was an assistant manager working under the president of Polaris Securities. Stockbrokers needed to be at work by 7:40 a.m., so he would get up at 5 a.m. and be in the office two hours later. Today, he may be group vice chairman, but he still gets out of bed at 5:30 a.m. and exercises, either doing yoga, walking 5 km on a mountain road behind his home, or hitting the gym.

But the most important part of his early morning routine is that he uses the time to collect his thoughts, think things over, and confirm his observations.

Every month he chooses one or two books from Taiwan, Hong Kong or China to read, and is omnivorous in the subjects he consumes. On the wooden bookshelves behind him, one can find not only books on management, politics and economics, but also novels or books with practical applications on topics like calculus and statistics.

Pai records his observations in a small notebook that never leaves his side, jotting down thoughts from things he's read, or recording things he's seen other people do or say, or even taking down lines from movies he found particularly moving. He then uses the early morning hours to digest his observations, filing them away for future reference.

The morning hours are the most valuable, Pai says. You can get done in one hour what it takes two or three hours to do during normal hours.

He finds the tranquility of early morning as ideal for what he describes as sedimentation.Once information naturally separates itself in the clarity of the morning, it becomes easier to find reason through analogy.

That same attention to creativity and thinking outside the box is the impression that people have of his corporate leadership style. During his tenure as chairman of Central Insurance Co. before it was acquired by American Insurance Group in February 2006, he was known for launching a number of innovative policies, including ghost monthand celebrity insurance. His efficiency in rolling out new insurance products was the best ever recorded in Central Insurance's 40-year history. Pai brought the same creativity and inspiration to the Polaris Financial Group, where he has furnished many of the lines used in Polaris advertisements.

"It's not enough to just read," Pai says. By making connections between ideas, ordering and collecting your thoughts, and then reasoning, it's easy to interpret and express your own unique train of thought.

After gathering his thoughts in this way, Pai discovered that knowledge in fact has many sources but can be narrowed down to the same universal principles. Pai laughs that it's just like Chu Liuxiang, a Robin Hood-like character in a popular martial arts story, going out without his sword but then finding that branches and stones also can serve as weapons. Through reading and rumination, one can achieve a state of mastery.

Pai also capitalizes on the tranquility of the early morning hours to mull over and reach major decisions, such as when he decided in 2003 to pursue a PhD in economics at Nanjing University. At first he hesitated over the idea in consideration of his family and the company, but during one of his early-morning sessions, he was able to figure out how to smooth over all of the negatives that gave him pause, and decided to go ahead with his plan.

Today, Pai appreciates more than ever the importance of getting an early start. Looking back at a career in which he has gone from an insurance agent designing products to heading a corporate group, Pai says his current job has freed him from day-to-day details to focus on strategic planning. The metaphysical thinking which this position requires makes Pai's early morning contemplation time especially precious.

Telly Kuo's Early Bird Secrets

1.Change your attitude: The purpose of life's struggles is to change the path fate has set for you. To alter destiny, you have to start now doing things differently. Getting up early is a way of expressing a new positive lifestyle attitude. It's a choice.

2.Foster the habit: After you've gotten into the habit, you will naturally wake up earlier.

Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatie

Keywords:

好友人數