Author Topic: Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng built Hainan Airlines into global empire  (Read 9812 times)


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It is often debated whether Buddhism contradicts business. People might think that successful Buddhist business people are a contradiction in terms as business implies the secular and decisions made on a purely commercial basis, i.e. profit and loss.

Chen Feng says that he avoids vices like smoking, drinking, womanising, banqueting etc. Does that make him a devout Buddhist? The news report also says that he and other directors donated US$1.4 billion to private equity charities. Perhaps his good heart and sincerity created the karma for him to create success and donate for charitable causes. What do you think?

Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng built Hainan Airlines into global empire
HNA Group founder says his goal is to become one of the world's top 100 companies by 2020

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 April, 2014, 12:59am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 April, 2014, 12:59am

Twenty years ago, Chen Feng used to push the refreshment trolley up and down the aisle of the lone Boeing 737 that comprised his startup airline.

Today, based on the tropical island of Hainan, he controls a fleet of 483 planes - and has a jet of his own, a Gulfstream G550. Even so, Chen, a devout Buddhist, says he is far from the stereotypical Chinese tycoon.

"I live a simple life," he says.

As he sips a caffe latte in the lounge of the chalet-like Sheraton Davos Waldhuus Hotel in Davos, Switzerland, his words jar with the setting: At January's World Economic Forum, he is surrounded by other corporate titans.

"I don't drink, smoke, have banquets, go to karaoke or get massages," he says. "I'm different from the other entrepreneurs in China."

Where Chen, 60, is more like them is in his vaulting global ambition. In 1995, Chen flew to New York and persuaded George Soros to invest US$25 million in his fledgling Hainan Airlines. Since then, backed by the Soros imprimatur, he has ridden the boom that transformed balmy, coconut palm-fringed Hainan from a backwater into a billionaires' playground reminiscent of a Chinese Hawaii or Riviera.

From his Buddha-shaped, 31-story headquarters in Hainan's increasingly high-rise capital, Haikou, Chen now chairs HNA Group, a closely held global transport, logistics, retail, property, tourism and financial services empire that reported revenue of US$17.5 billion and pre-tax profits of US$837 million for 2012.

Among its US$58 billion worth of assets: a New York office tower, a Spanish hotel group, a French airline and controlling stakes in 10 companies listed on the mainland and Hong Kong exchanges.

"Chen's smart, brave and a gambler," says Albert Louie, founder of Hong Kong-based consulting firm A. Louie Associates, who advises foreign investors in China. "He's also politically well connected, and unlike China's internet entrepreneurs, he isn't in industries that the government might consider threatening to Communist Party control."

Chen has spent more than US$3 billion on foreign acquisitions in the past six years alone. His biggest bet was the US$1.05 billion purchase in 2011 of GE Seaco, the world's fifth-biggest container-leasing company, from General Electric. Such deals would make HNA Group, if publicly traded, one of the world's top 250 companies by assets, according to data.

The founder, though, has much loftier goals.

"By 2020, we can become one of the top 100 companies, and by 2030, we want to be one of the top 50," Chen says. "Assets are still cheap in the US and Europe, and we will continue to acquire them. We need a batch of world-class companies to emerge from China to help the country's growth."

That's a familiar refrain among China's entrepreneurs.

Since the global financial crisis ravaged the rest of the world in 2008, Chinese companies have made about US$360 billion worth of foreign acquisitions.

Chen shouldn't be short of cash for his next deal. At the end of 2012, HNA had US$60 billion in credit lines from Chinese banks, according to its latest financial statements.

Chen says he plans to raise additional capital by selling shares in several HNA units that are unlisted.

In coming months, Chen says, he will announce the initial public offering of Hong Kong Airlines, the city's second-biggest carrier. He acquired the airline in 2006. The listing may raise about US$1 billion later this year, according to a person with knowledge of the plan.

For now, the jewel in HNA's crown remains Shanghai-listed Hainan Airlines, Chen's biggest public company, with a market value of US$3.6 billion. Together with five smaller affiliate airlines, it has a 15 per cent share in the China market, according to Sydney-based Capa Centre for Aviation.

Only the big three state-owned carriers - Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines - have larger shares.

"Hainan is leaner and more internationally minded than the big three," said Will Horton, a Hong Kong-based Capa analyst. "It can become a serious player to North America."

The airline's key selling points include a crash-free record; doting, glamorously garbed flight attendants; and flat-bed business-class seats that made it the first Chinese airline to win five stars from London-based rating agency Skytrax.

Many of Chen's shareholders have had a less enjoyable ride. Since 2009, the Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index has been the eighth-worst performer out of 93 tracked by Bloomberg. And in the 12 months ended Thursday, Hainan Airlines' shares have declined 17 per cent compared with the index's 4 per cent tumble.

Even as he launches more public companies, Chen continues to control his empire through an unlisted holding company that isn't required to disclose its complete balance sheet or the identities of its main shareholders.

One key item HNA does not release is its net profit. Chen says that last year he and six other directors, who between them owned almost all of the stock, donated 20 per cent of HNA's shares, worth US$1.4 billion, to what he describes as a private- equity fund for charity.

The fund is HNA's largest shareholder and Chen says he ranks as the joint second-biggest shareholder, although he declines to reveal the size of his personal holding, making it impossible to determine how rich he is. Given Chen's calculation of the value of the donation, HNA is worth US$7 billion.

"Chen Feng is my idol, but I don't understand his company's structure," said Wang Dafu, 48, a property developer who serves as Chen's deputy chairman at the Hainan Federation of Industry and Commerce.

Although Chen is under no obligation to disclose more than he has about the workings of his private company, investors in Hong Kong Airlines' IPO should expect HNA's ownership to be more transparent, said Ronald Wan, fund manager at Asian Capital Holdings.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Buddhist tycoon builds airline into global empire
Kate Walker - a wannabe wisdom Being


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Re: Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng built Hainan Airlines into global empire
« Reply #1 on: April 13, 2014, 11:16:47 AM »
Tycoon Chen Feng started life in a humble way and managed to turn his business into a global empire. It's also great to know that he donates lots of money to charity . If his motivation is pure he will gain a lot of merits through his generosity. As a Buddhist, motivation for every single thought, speech or action is very important, as Karma resulting from them determines our next cause in life. Pure motivation equals Pure results.
If he practices well, then he also cannot be attached to his wealth. Wealth is not equal to Happiness. I hope he continues to be a successful businessman but above all I wish for him to be a successful Buddhist practitioner !


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Re: Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng built Hainan Airlines into global empire
« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2014, 02:23:02 PM »
Buddhists teachings never contradicts business; instead it is part of our lives. People always said that one needs to be cunning to be successful in business; it may be true in short terms but usually such business do not last long. Having a good motivation for business (or anything) will yield good returns. If a person build a business empire with the motivation to create job opportunity and benefit people, it will yield good results. Applying good qualities of Buddhism teachings like patience, honest, have integrity, etc will definitely yield good results in long run.

Furthermore, meditation techniques as taught by Lord Buddha are now being used in many big business organisations like Google, etc.


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Re: Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng built Hainan Airlines into global empire
« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2014, 03:06:53 PM »
Money and investing- family relationships work and business.What could the Buddha tell us about such worldly concerns? More than you might think.
By the end of the day ,most business people who follow the Dharma say it all boils down to just being a descent human being to enjoy a meaningful and lasting happiness in life.


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Re: Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng built Hainan Airlines into global empire
« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2014, 06:30:48 PM »
There are a few possible reasons why tycoon Chen Feng is so successful and extremely wealthy. Firstly, he was a very generous person in his past lives. Had he not created the cause, he will not have experienced the results in this life. Secondly, he and other shareholders of the empire continue to practise generosity by donating twenty percents of their earnings to charity. Furthermore, Chen Feng seems like living without much attachments and he practises virtues. All these good traits had made him a very successful tycoon.


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Re: Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng built Hainan Airlines into global empire
« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2014, 06:03:05 AM »
I have always supported the idea that being Buddhist doesn't necessarily means one has to give up doing business as long as the business is of the "Right Livelihood". It means one must keep the vows of not killing, gambling, cheating and intoxicants in their business dealings. It does not actually make any difference is one is working a 9 to 5 job or doing business  in this respect. Being Buddhist, one is suppose to keep this vows.
Interestingly, keeping these vows does not impede's Mr Chen Feng's business. On the contrary, I think it helps him do better by having higher integrity and sincerity. Moreover, he can use his money to help charities and Buddhism.


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Re: Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng built Hainan Airlines into global empire
« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2014, 05:21:35 AM »
I think that Buddhism and business conflicts when the motivation has Buddhist values of not creating suffering to others. If we really want to measure how Buddhist we are, then we should all be ordained. Being ordained is the direction towards one's liberation or Enlightenment. This is not going to be easy for many people and may scare them away.

What's more important at the moment is to lead a life of morals and ethics. Study Buddhism and practise the teachings of kindness and compassion. If all of us practise kindness and compassion, the world will already be a much better place to live in. It is good for Mr Chen Feng to donate to charity as it is an act of compassion. Merits will only be generated if his motivation was altruistic and unconditional.


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Re: Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng built Hainan Airlines into global empire
« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2014, 08:55:09 AM »
What is important is keeping a balance between business and spirituality although I think they are interrelated. A spiritual mind will help in stable and conscious dealings in Business. Definitely spirituality will help in decision making. As long as the motivation for the business is not to cheat or hurt people, then spirituality comes hand in hand.

Mr. Chen Feng seems to have struck a balance in that and it shows in his ever growing business. He does not participate in any vices and that does not create bad karma for him, like most of the other business men.


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Re: Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng built Hainan Airlines into global empire
« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2014, 04:22:22 AM »
Right livelihood [not doing work that causes harm to self or others] is a tenet of Buddhist practice, but that doesn't mean we should all be social workers. You have to let the business be a business and operate within that framework with a sense of individual responsibility and according to Buddhist tenets. There's a subtle balancing act you have to do which may sometimes proof to be a real challenge;  combining an economic system with moral values.

We are living in the 21st century where money plays a role in helping to alleviate physical sufferings and is the answer to most problems. Charity organisations need financial resources.  May there be more Buddhists like Chen Feng. And may they use their wealth to support charitable causes just like he did.

Solomon Lang

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Re: Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng built Hainan Airlines into global empire
« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2014, 05:57:14 PM »
I think being money rich and being spiritual are two different things altogether. One does not need to be spiritual to be rich and neither does one need to be rich to be spiritual. As for Mr. Chen Feng, hey it's karma!
Solomon's Judgement: 2 women came to resolve a quarrel over which was d true mother of a baby. When Solomon suggested they should divide d child in two with a sword, one said she would rather give up d child than see it killed. Solomon then declared d woman who showed compassion 2b the true mother.


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Re: Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng built Hainan Airlines into global empire
« Reply #10 on: April 25, 2014, 07:03:49 AM »
Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng business is legitimate. He works hard to reach the status he is now and he does not abuse his wealth. If his motivation is pure and he used his wealth to benefit and help others he will collect tremendous merits. Every dharma or charity organizations need financial resources and may there be more businessman like Chen Feng who will use their wealth to support these organizations.

Kim Hyun Jae

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Re: Buddhist tycoon Chen Feng built Hainan Airlines into global empire
« Reply #11 on: April 25, 2014, 01:54:40 PM »
I agree with Rihana. Right livelihood in the Buddhist context. If Chen Feng operates his legit businesses with moral conduct and right motivation, he can make whatever money he wants to, and take a percentage of the profits and donate to charitable causes. Many charitable institutions rely on these kind sponsors from businesses organisations to support worthy causes.