Yap Ah Loy and Rockefeller

By TAY TIAN YAN
Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE

I inadvertently discovered that the Chinese Kapitan in Malaysia, Yap Ah Loy and the American oil magnate, John D.Rockefeller were men of the same era.

Yap was born in 1837 and Rockefeller was born two years later. Both have had very difficult childhoods. Yap was a cowherd while Rockefeller raised chickens.

When Yap was travelling all the way from China to Malaya, Rockefeller had to suffer humiliation before getting his first job as an assistant bookkeeper.

Yap got his first tin mine in his 20s and started to make rapid advances in his career; while Rockefeller got his first oil well and started to make his fortune.

Yap had become one of the most powerful and wealthiest people in Malaya while Rockefeller rose as the richest man and the greatest philanthropist in the US.

There are many similarities between Yap and Rockefeller but at the same time, there are also great differences between the two of them.

Today, the Yap family has declined but the Rockefeller family is still very wealthy with more than US$300 billion assets. It is expected to continue being wealthy in the foreseeable future.

The objective of such a comparison is not to belittle the Yap family. On the contrary, I have full appreciation for Yap's great grandchildren who are open-minded and contented to be ordinary folks. However, the contrast still tells us some valuable life lessons.

Perhaps, Yap was limited due to personal factors and had neglected management sustainability. He had also failed to grasp the trend of social change and as a result, his wealth turned to zero.

Meanwhile, Rockefeller started from oil exploitation and expanded his business to the oil refining market, as well as the financial and manufacturing sectors, reaching all aspects of the US economy.

He was specialised in using leveraging power to expand the industrial development of his business group and from industrial production, he accumulated capital to control the financial market.

Rockefeller's success is representative of the success of US capitalism. He said that: "If I were to become broke and thrown into a desert, I can still rebuild my dynasty as long as there is a camel team passing by."

The belief in professionalism and power of systems helped Rockefeller and Western enterprises maintain their wealth and status. This is the condition lacked by Yap and many Chinese entrepreneurs.

That Rockefeller is able to pass his wealth to the sixth generation is actually also closely related to his family education.

Although he was the richest man in the United States, Rockefeller still required his children and grandchildren to do house work in exchange for their pocket money. His eldest grandson recalled that his first business was made when he sold his rabbit to a scientific laboratory.

Rockefeller told his son that the starting point is not the end. Regardless of a person's origin, his success or failure in the future lies in his own efforts.

Therefore, his children and grandchildren do not use the family wealth to buy British castles, French manors or Italian fine arts. Instead, they accumulate the money and make contributions to hospitals, universities and global philanthropy.

Rockefeller's story of success and wisdom of life have not only educated his children and grandchildren, but have also affected the values of the Americans.

From the decline of the Yap family and the attitude of a parvenu's son in China who killed a person with his car but still said arrogantly that: "My father is Li Gang", we know where the problems lie.

Sin Chew Daily

MySinchew 2010.12.27