I am pleased to be here to speak at this conference. I have participated at many of these conferences, but this occasion is special because I am here to speak to you about my father, about his life, about philanthropy and about some of his wishes and values that he hoped will be passed on through the foundation to you, the students and everyone here.
All of you have been touched by dad, directly or indirectly, but most of you are unfamiliar with his story. He was a man of few words, modest, understated, and not one to brag about his successes. I want to tell you a little more about his amazing story, his accomplishments and about his journey from a small village outside of Shanghai to the United States, and about his reconnection back to China in his later years.
-Dad was born in a village named Shenze near Shanghai in 1930.
-In 1937 the Japanese invaded China and took over Shanghai that year (War from 1937-1945 ended after atomic bombs) My Grandfather, my dad’s father moved the family to central China, Chungking and Hong Kong
-In December 1941, same morning Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded Hong Kong. Two weeks later, Hong Kong, which was controlled by the British surrendered to the Japanese. My grandfather set up an escape route for Dad and family to Chungking. He and family members put on peasant clothes and traveled for weeks by foot, truck and boat to Chungking.
-After the war Dad ended up going back to high school in Hong Kong.
-In 1950 When he was 20 years old he boarded a slow boat to San Francisco to attend what was then Penn Military academy and what is now Widener University near Philadelphia.
-He attended college a couple of years, funds got cut off, and he moved to Chicago.
Dad met my mother in Chicago. And I should mention that my mother was born in Tsingtao. My parents did not know each other before they met in Chicago. My mother came to the US also for college and came to Chicago after she finished. They met, married, had me in 1954 then my sister four years later.
So, Dad is in Chicago, he’s started a family and struggling to survive but what has come of the rest of the Tang’s in China? A world war and a civil war in China has just ended. Most of them were able to leave mainland China and scattered to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada, Australia, and the United States. Dad was to bring together much of his family to the Chicago area working with him in the company. His brothers, sisters, and other relatives and friends came to Chicago to work for the company. Dad and Mom worked together to strengthen the family. Dad offered opportunity and tried to find a place for his family and friends, while Mom was raising the kids and helping in the business
-When describing my father’s business accomplishments, you think of Tang Industries and National Material and the metals businesses. Since the start of the company in 1964 there have been over 150 companies started or purchased which span not only metals related business, but include businesses in office furniture, travel services, various trading businesses, renewable energy, pharmaceuticals, biomedicine, insurance, auto parts, airplane parts, and many more.
-But Dad came to the US in 1950, what was he doing for 14 years before he started National Material? For two years he was in university, but he never finished and moved to Chicago. CT started from the bottom, he had to survive.
Dad had a Dry-cleaning business, worked in a ship yard, delivered newspapers, he was a waiter and later a restaurant owner, he started a small import-export business that imported things to the US and exported small items to Asia.
-In 1964 he started his first wholly owned company, National Material. In 1971 he started Tang Industries. He was doing leveraged buy-outs before it became a common financial term. He was starting companies way before entrepreneurship became fashionable.
Success in business gave him the ability to give to charity. But just writing checks was not enough. He looked for impact and value.
-Dad was always impressed by the generosity of Americans and the culture of philanthropy and volunteerism in the US.
A personal story that left a strong impression on my father. When I was young the family took a long road trip in an old car. My dad was driving late at night and the car stopped running. He pulled over to the side of the road and raised the hood. My father did not know much about cars. So we waited by the road.
A complete stranger stopped and offered to help. He spent over an hour and tried to fix the car, but needed a part. He then took my dad to service station where he could get help to fix the car. He didn’t ask for anything in return and drove off after he knew that the car could be fixed. This is a small story but had a great effect.
In the United States there is a long history of giving and volunteerism. Currently in the United States about $400B per year is given away for charitable causes. There are over 1.5M non-profit organizations in the US.
About 25% of the US population volunteers giving about 8B hours of service per year. In order to graduate from high school my children were required to volunteer for charitable institutions. I spend about a third of my time devoted to philanthropic causes.
This culture of giving and volunteerism started before the US became a country. In fact, Harvard University, which was founded in 1636, was founded on a charitable grant. So what good has all those donations been used for.
Philanthropy has been used to support medical centers, research to cure diseases, start universities, libraries, it’s been used to help the poor, the hungry. Philanthropy has been used to help every aspect of society.
Philanthropy is not primarily about rich people helping poor people, but about private initiatives for public good, focusing on quality of life. In the US people of all income levels donate. Most donations come from individuals, almost all wealthy people donate and about two thirds of the middle class and poor donate money and time to charitable causes.
My father started his philanthropy in the United States by giving scholarships to Chinese students coming to the United States.
Over many years in the United States he has given to many educational and health related causes. His major gifts include, the Tang Center for the Study of Herbal Medicine at the University of Chicago, at the RAND corporation a US think tank, he started the Tang Center for China Studies, and at the Field Museum he funded the Cyrus Tang Hall of China, which is the first permanent exhibit in the US on the history of China.
The first time my father returned to China was in 1995, 45 years after he first left Hong Kong. After that trip he realized that he could have a greater impact in China and began to focus his philanthropic efforts in China.
You are aware of many of these projects, but since the start of the Cyrus Tang Foundation over 20 years ago the Foundation has been involved in over 65 major projects:
CTF has built over 250 grade schools in impoverished areas, it has funded a University Library, a medical center, a 1000 bed community hospital, a national level nano technology center, CTF has funded programs in archeology, cultural preservation, public health initiatives, rural economic development programs - and many more.
- Dad’s proudest philanthropic achievement are the scholarship programs developed for students. Currently CTF is helping to support students in 22 universities, students in 420 high schools, in 10 provinces. Since the start, there have been 100,000 scholarships granted for students from high school, university and in graduate studies. There are over 10,000 university alumni, and along the way there have been marriages and children among the alumni. Dad was honored to officiate many marriages.
So I’ve been asked the question, “is the family in agreement with the decision to give away much of the wealth to charity, to others, to strangers?”
The simple answer is yes, my sister and I have never had an issue with this.
My father certainly has financially taken care of his family. We could not possibly spend or consume all the wealth that he has been created. Since the company has been passed to me, I expect to give most of my wealth to charitable causes and I hope that my children will do the same. Over time wealth is constantly being created and should be recirculated in society.
I don’t know the exact reasons that my father decided to donate so much, but I know that the American culture of giving influenced him, his peers in the US also encouraged him to be generous and donate.
I know that donating wealth is not a typical Chinese concept, but it is becoming more popular as huge amounts of wealth is being created in China.
-In 2010 Bill Gates and Warren Buffet started something called the ‘Giving Pledge”, where wealthy people committed to give to charity half of their wealth during their lifetime. My father had already planned to do that years before. But he did it in his own style quietly without a need to tell others or make a big deal about it.
What has my father left behind? What is his legacy? He has two children, five grandchildren, a thriving, growing business but most importantly he has left a legacy of his ideas that hopefully will influence generations of people to give back, to volunteer time and energy to doing good deeds for your community.
Everyone here is part of his legacy. He will live on through you, through your good efforts. Thank you for being part of his journey and his life.