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Evergreen Marine Chairman Y.F. Chang

Visionary at the Helm


With 176 vessels plying the world’s oceans, Evergreen is a truly global Taiwanese conglomerate. The green-friendly vision of Chairman Y.F. Chang has helped it claim a popular niche in a cutthroat field.



Visionary at the Helm

By Sara Wu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 389 )

As a Taiwanese adage has it, 'Sailing to sea, you have a one-in-three chance of returning alive.' But Evergreen Group chairman Y.F. Chang ?V who just celebrated his eightieth birthday last year ?V has handily defied the slim odds of a sailor's life.

From third mate sailor to chairman of a conglomerate fanning over land, sea and air, Y.F. Chang's professional and personal worlds have come into clearer focus as the years have worn on. As an individual he still retains the tough, uncompromising, resolute attributes of a mariner. Becoming ever more comfortable with the idea of placing his empire into the hands of a capable subordinate rather than a family successor, he remains thoroughly engaged in the company's operations.

Chang's professional world is like ripples on the surface of the water, expanding ever outward as he rubs shoulders with world leaders. In contrast to the frequent setbacks Taiwan faces these days in the diplomatic arena, Chang has made his mark through sheer competence in the marine shipping field, navigating the global stage with aplomb. With a fleet of 176 ships and 166 operational bases on five continents, Evergreen Marine is one of Taiwan's select few truly international corporations.

From Britain to Italy and even to China, Evergreen is highly regarded around the world. In 2006, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the Queen's Award for Enterprise on Hatsu Marine, an Evergreen company, as one of the best international corporations in the UK. The same year, she presented Chang with the title of Commander of the British Empire. And last September he added the Knight of the Grand Cross (Cavaliere di Gran Croce) to his list of honors, presented by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano. 'Evergreen is the best performing Taiwanese international corporation in Britain,' says Katharine Chang, director of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK, adding that Chairman Chang is well known among the country's top echelon of politicos.

Half of Thamesport's Freight Throughput

On a briskly cool morning in late December, Evergreen's latest 'smart green' ship, the Hatsu Smart, prepares to leave Thamesport for the Atlantic Ocean.

Like a bright watercolor painting, the 14-story tall Hatsu Smart towers against the backdrop of the glistening sun-lit harbor and sea. The white block letters HATSU SMART along the hull against a field of black near the waterline immediately grab one's attention.

'Hatsu' is Y.F. Chang's Japanese name. Green and orange Evergreen containers are neatly stacked on board. Our CommonWealth Magazine reporter is joined ashore by crew members in fluorescent orange uniforms, Evergreen's resident harbor captain, staff members, Evergreen Marine UK Ltd. chairman James Wey, the Thamesport harbormaster, and security staff.

Captain Wang Sung-ching and 13 sailors dressed in khaki uniforms stand at attention on deck, awaiting orders to set sail.

Thamesport is a shining stage for Evergreen, relates Hutchison Ports marketing director John Kornjaca. Accounting for more than half the freight throughput of the entire port, Evergreen is its most important customer, he notes.

Evergreen Shipping Agency (U.K.) Limited is Britain's largest registered container shipping company, making three regularly scheduled calls to Thamesport and one to Felixstowe per week, moving approximately 180,000 TEUs ('Twenty-foot Equivalent Units' ?V one TEU is the amount of cargo that can be held in one 20-foot container) in and out of Britain per year.

Evergreen is a major presence not just at Thamesport, but at major ports worldwide where it handles among the highest cargo container volume. And while intra-industry mergers have nudged Evergreen Marine back to fourth largest ranking in the world, it is nonetheless the largest independently owned fleet plying the seas (many companies lease their ships).

How has a corporation from the Pacific Rim island of Taiwan penetrated the centuries-long maritime dominance of Great Britain, the rising power of America, and the venerable civilization of continental Europe, to develop bit by bit, piece by piece into a global maritime empire?

Seizing Green Business Opportunities

For the past four decades Y.F. Chang has often bucked conventional wisdom, leading the industry with his own unique approach.

Recently, Evergreen Marine has once again taken the lead with its advanced environmental perspective and potent ability to get things done wherever it goes. And the steps it has taken have left the world's marine transport sector both surprised and impressed.

In 2003, just as environmental consciousness was budding around the world, Y.F. Chang invested heavily in the production of 10 S-class container ships that far exceeded then-current environmental regulations. In today's terms, each ship was manufactured at a cost of US$130 million.

Hatsu Smart is one such vessel, which resembles a floating five-star hotel. The captain's bridge houses a compact dashboard that commands the equivalent of 500 automobiles in horsepower to propel the ship forward. Environmental touches include specialized design to prevent fuel spillage and reduce waste emissions. One such touch, a temporary bilge tank, holds bilge water until the ship can be docked in port and the waste transferred to treatment facilities on shore, instead of ejecting effluent into the harbor or coastal areas. In addition, the dual-hull design with transverse water-tight fuel compartment can prevent fuel spillage in the event of a collision and avert potential marine environmental devastation.

The internal fuel compartment design is far from being an incidental expense. It takes up one hundred and ten 20-foot containers' worth of space, which would otherwise yield NT$7 million in cargo income per trip. This is where Evergreen's forward thinking can be seen, Captain Wang Shun-ching and James Hwang, president of Evergreen Shipping Agency (U.K.) Limited, are eager to stress.

What seems like lost profit on the surface ends up paying off for Evergreen Marine.

Thanks to its forward-looking strategy Evergreen has attracted numerous environmentally conscious companies as loyal customers, finding an alternate niche to the cut-throat price competition of the traditional marine transport industry.

Progressive Company Darling

Port management firms are especially familiar with the rising and falling fortunes of marine transport companies. Chris Lewis, CEO of Hutchison Ports, related that marine shipping companies that devote attention to environmental issues are actually doing better under the rising tide of environmental consciousness. Lewis adds that 'vision' is the key to success in this industry.

Evergreen is no stranger to leading the industry with progressive approaches and green consciousness. Despite its share of setbacks, the company has blazed its own trail in the marine transport field with a series of strategies that have placed it at the top.

The first instance of note was back in the 1970s, an era in which everyone was operating bulk freighters. Spotting the potential in container vessel operation, Y.F. Chang invested US$1 million on market research over a two-year period, and with the financial support of the Marubeni Corporation of Japan, Evergreen began transitioning to an exclusively container-vessel fleet ahead of even Japan's six major marine transport companies.

The second instance was the decision to make the Far East-US route Evergreen's first regularly scheduled full container route, securing the company's position to take advantage of the growing regional trade between Asia and the United States.

The third such occasion was the launch of Evergreen's trans-Atlantic route in the 1980s. Despite forceful efforts by the powerful Far Eastern Freight Conference (of Europe) to stand in the way, Evergreen gritted its teeth and endured difficult times to become the first Asian company to operate a trans-Atlantic shipping route.

The company reached another milestone in 1984 with the establishment of an east-west trans-global shipping route, placing it on an equal footing with European shipping companies.

After founding the company at the age of 42, Y.F. Chang's three expansion moves over short- and long-haul shipping routes helped transform Evergreen Marine from a single old freighter operation into the world's largest container shipping company by 1985, over an 18-year period. Today the firm operates global shipping routes criss-crossing all the oceans.

As time has worn on, entrepreneurs with their sights set on conquering the world's markets and politicians intent on winning local elections have drifted further and further apart, constantly disappointing Chang's hopes for the establishment of direct cross-strait transportation links with China. Chairman Chang did not hesitate to criticize Taiwan's current economic policies and performance over the course of our interview, raising his voice as he stressed, 'Taiwan must open up if it is to recover economically, and most important of all are the Three Links' (direct air links between China and Taiwan).

A self-professed 'son of the sea,' Y.F. Chang gets emotional about his mystical connections with the oceans. 'I have a deep bond with the ocean, having been involved in marine transport ever since graduating from school. I know so much about the maritime world. I'm sure if this country (Taiwan) had a comprehensive maritime national development policy, we'd surely find prosperity and happiness,' he asserts wistfully.

Translated from the Chinese by David Toman

Chinese Version: 長榮海運張榮發:領先者的策略 航向大藍海