Ruentex Chairman Samuel Yin:
Setbacks Are a Spur from God
In this exclusive interview, teenage hooligan turned billionaire philanthropist Samuel Yin ponders the crucial role of tranquility in forging leadership.
Setbacks Are a Spur from GodBy Fuyuan Hsiao
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 516 )
On the golf course outside the floor-to-ceiling windows stands a magpie.
"Look, look, it's bathing," says Ruentex Group Chairman Samuel Yin, nodding toward the window as the bird dips its head under the waters of the small pond.
Just a day earlier Yin had called a news conference to announce a NT$3 billion endowment to establish the Tang Prize Foundation, which will henceforth organize, administer and award "Asian Nobel-type Prizes." Yin donated an additional US$4 million to the Ministry of Culture to promote Taiwanese culture abroad through the "Taiwan Cultural Spotlight" program. Yin, who has publicly pledged to donate 95 percent of his assets to charity, has in recent years become Taiwan's most prolific entrepreneur-cum-philanthropist.
A cell phone rings.
"Teacher Wang … Thank you, Teacher Wang. Without your influence, I would not be here today," Yin says into the phone. "This is me kowtowing to you three times," he continues, knocking three times on the phone's mouthpiece.
The "Teacher Wang" to whom Yin refers is none other than the president of the Legislative Yuan Wang Jin-pyng, who helped put Yin on the straight and narrow path after he was sent to a juvenile reform facility for two-plus years during his violently rambunctious youth.
Yin's Bade Rd. office in Taipei quite simply resembles a silent battleground. Perched on a credenza is a large model of a main battle tank. On the floor is a model of China's Shenzhou 9 spacecraft, along with AWACS aircraft and Hangtian 2 missiles. It seems the explosively unruly 15 year-old youth has not been entirely exorcised.
"I'm often alone. I'll close the door, and this is my own quiet zone," Yin says after giving introductions to his collection of "weaponry" and pushing open another door. Inside the expansive space is a projector, screen, audio system and rows of bookshelves. There's also a drafting table upon which have been placed several wristwatches. This is where he indulges in his watch repair hobby.
Yin has treasured his quiet space since he was a boy. Despite being one of Taiwan's seven wealthiest individuals, each time he needs to make an important policy decision, he'll still retreat into seclusion for a few days.
In ruminating over the Tang Prize, over the past six months he's driven his RV up Hohuan Mountain three times. There he'd find a secluded spot near some washroom facilities and contemplate how to go about his latest project in total peace and quiet, subsisting on bread and canned goods.
So how does he reach those decisions in total solitude? What follows are excerpts from an interview with CommonWealth Magazine:
"Tranquility is the master of volatility." Tranquility is a force of total agitation or a source of explosive energy. The ultimate tranquility is a black hole. Tranquility taken to the extreme can cause a huge explosion.
The Tang Prize was a quiet and long-term decision. I've been thinking about this for 20 years. It has no direct relationship with running a business, but there is a connection. Business is the means; civic-mindedness is the goal. Without the means, how can you achieve the goal? As I see it, engaging in commerce is a necessary measure to obtain resources.
I Liked to Be Feared
My most notable characteristic is I'm extremely calm. Even when I'm yelling loudly, I'm doing so calmly. I've never been truly agitated; the greater the adversity, the calmer I get. I was born with it.
I can focus on controlling my mood from morning to night. Whether I'm speechifying, boasting or boozing, I'm always quite calm. This might be a result of practicing Zen meditation.
In a truly tranquil state, you'll feel as if you're having a dialogue with yourself – a higher self that judges your actions. You could call it God or angels. God is what's in your heart.
Before making any big decisions, I'll always calm myself down first.
I headed out into the mountains by myself three times to ponder this Tang Prize decision. I've got an RV, and I've made a habit of going camping alone.
[Buddhist] Master Sheng Yen once asked me: "You go alone, don't bring anyone along – aren't you afraid of running into bad guys?" I told him: "Up to now I have yet to run into anyone worse than me."
While I was camping I thought to myself, what will be the outcome if I pursue this course of action? What kind of outcome can I expect? Should I do it anonymously or overtly? I really don't like being in the spotlight.
Some folks ask how a guy like me who started out as a juvenile delinquent could end up doing something like this.
I started getting in trouble in junior high school. I didn't know a lick of English, couldn't be bothered to study math. I had just given up on myself, and by my third year of junior high, I was in juvenile detention.
But fortunately, those two and a half years in detention gave me a new life; otherwise, I'd have eventually been finished for good. I've never tried to hide the fact that I had a shady period in my life.
My values used to be such that I wanted people to be afraid of me, a little hooligan strutting about threateningly.
Later, Wang Jin-pyng put it to me bluntly: You want attention from people, and fear is the means. But what you should really seek is people's respect, their love. I said, Okay, great, how do I do that?
The first step was to hit the books, learn how to be a man. If you keep a warm and open heart, always empathizing with others and making efforts on behalf of society, people will naturally come to like you.
There's a lot of noise in the current environment. Amidst all that noise, there's a lot of talk about change. Actually, there's change within the commonplace, and the commonplace also remains amidst the change.
When you quietly observing the greater milieu, it's like undulating waves, all of which gradually build up, then come crashing down in an instant. And so it is with national affairs, exchange rates, interest rates, the stock market. Although there's change, there's also an overall trajectory to that change.
I wanted to work on a long-term project, so I started to learn about the mechanism behind the establishment of the Nobel Foundation. The Tang Prize offers a little force behind the global orientation of the Chinese people.
The reason "Tang" was chosen for the name was – well, if we'd used Qin... The Qin period was an expansionist, violent era. Although it united China, unified the written language and other measures of nationhood, it was invasive in nature.
This is not true of the Tang. It fused the ethnic, cultural and religious, using that power to draw in surrounding groups voluntarily rather than by coercion. The Tang era was also a very liberal, open-minded, romantic and moderate age.
People have strongly suggested that I use the name "Yin Family Foundation" or "Yin Shu-tian Foundation," but I rejected these out of hand. This is not one family coming out into the world, but rather the whole of the Chinese people.
130 Defamatory Letters
I've had plenty of setbacks. The way I see it, setbacks are a spur from God. In the course of human events, things may not go exactly as you'd like 80 or 90 percent of the time. The key is the attitude you take in facing up to these adverse circumstances.
You need to calm yourself down and maintain a positive, thankful mindset, reminding yourself that this is a time to raise your standards. It's a trial by fire, not persecution. If you think you're being persecuted, you'll be miserable. You need to think of it as a test, a trial by fire that will one day result in forging a character of steel.
Back in my days with Nanshan Life Insurance, I got 130 letters impugning my character – a thick sheaf of them. I saved them all, and I know exactly who wrote them.
At first I was angry. These accusations were completely groundless. Later, I decided this guy was really rather creative, and I developed a kind of appreciation for him. The way he did it was really incredible. The guy was a real talent! I thought maybe I could get him to do some creative work for me.
Later, he stopped writing for a while, and I actually found it quite lonely.
I'm a person of two key characteristics: One, I harbor no hatred, and the other, I have no fear. These are virtually entirely inborn. A fearless hooligan is really quite a frightening thing! What guts! If I'd had access to advanced weaponry back in the day, it would have been a real disaster.
I was born in the Year of the Tiger, I'm a Leo, and my nickname was Da Peng (a mythical bird of prey), all of which are fearless creatures. I'm a rather lonely person, but I enjoy loneliness and quiet.
Tranquility is a source of power. If your heart is full of restlessness, impatience and anxiety, your power will be limited.
In a showdown between swordsmen, whoever becomes agitated first will lose. The calmer your forces remain, the easier to achieve victory. Impatience, confusion, disorder and lack of discipline will invariably lead to defeat.
Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy