Photo by Malcolm Parry

太太 has been mentor to Alan Chen since he led the UBC MBA graduating class when he was just 19 or someone young!  Through sister Ange they stayed connected to set him up in Hong Kong where he landed as head of Hedgefund sales for CLSA and subsequently head of Asian Equities for Mizuho ex Japan.   Very capable mom, Sylvia.   Her son inherited her energy!  Father is brilliant physicist - teaching in university in Taiwan.  Brainy genes run in the family!


BEAUNES OF CONTEN-TION: When Alan Chen appeared in this column in 2006, he headed the CSLA brokerage and investment-banking firm in Taiwan. Visiting his hometown then, he cruised the UBC campus, where he'd earned an MBA degree at age 22, called on mother Sylvia, the Allcity Importers founding "dragon," then rode a chrome-laden Harley-Davidson Fat Boy motor-cycle to visit one-time mentor Andrea Eng. She called him "the 34-year-old Peter Brown of Asia," while his joking self-appraisal was: "The second coming of Bruce Lee."

Very much a financial markets action figure, Chen now heads Asian equities at Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd. Among other projects, he's handling part of the $1.3-billion IPO for Richard Li's PCCW telecom trust.

Hong Kong investors have been cool on IPOs lately. But they're boiling over for Burgundy wine, like the 60 bottles of 1990 DRC La Tache Chen cellared in 2009 that would now fetch $70,000 a case. According to the Nov. 14 Bloomberg Businessweek, one Hong Kong wine merchant's sales changed from 80-per-cent Bordeaux to 80-per-cent Burgundy since July. A Nov. 4-5 auction set 145 price records for Burgundy.

For his bachelor's degree in zoology, Chen wrote about great white sharks mistaking human swimmers for sea lions, taking an experimental bite, then spitting them out. He mightn't do that with the 1999 Domaine de la Romanee Conti Richebourg he's been snapping up lately   --  2011 November 17  VANCOUVER SUN


MALCOLM PARRY: Mentor Andrea Eng feted MBA classmate Alan Chen on being Taiwan Country Head of investment bank CLSA .

VANCOUVER SUN  Malcolm Parry photograph

Flash, dash and lots of cash
Self-styled 'second coming of Bruce Lee' likes to see Vancouver from the back of a chromed-up Fat Boy

Malcolm Parry
Vancouver Sun

Alan Chen handles brokerage billions in Fat City Taipei; rides his rococo Harley Fat Boy on trips home

Alan Chen, 34, is still pretty much the whiz kid he was when he earned a University of B.C. degree in zoology at age 19 and an MBA at 22. Today, he heads the CLSA brokerage and investment-banking firm in Taiwan. His daily business is with the portfolio fund managers of multi-billion-dollar institutions like Templeton, Fidelity and Capital Research.

Ranked by Asian Money magazine as having Asia's best research team, CLSA is the subsidiary of France's huge Credit Agricole bank.

On a recent flying visit here, Chen rode a customized Harley Davidson 100th-anniversary 2003 Fat Boy with 500 kilometres on the clock to visit a fellow MBA student and continuing "mentor." That was one-time city-realty pistol Andrea Eng, who happened to be in town, too, and calls Chen "the 34-year-old Peter Brown of Asia."

Chen himself also likes to call on old business-school pals like investment bankers Tim Fernback and Randy Garg, mortgage broker Rich Nichols, financial consultant Rob Takeuchi and stunt-man Paul Wu, who recently doubled Hong Kong movie star Chow Yun-Fat.

Of Eng, Chen said: "You'd always want her on your side, because she's the one who'll always slam 'em in the net. She's also a great executioner -- whether you want to execute a deal or, sometimes, when someone must be sacrificed."

Bloodthirsty images continued when Chen recalled his bachelor-degree thesis: The Great White Shark: The Bite and Spit Hypothesis.

"Great whites have excellent eyesight," he said. "When they come at [swimmers], they bump you first, then open their jaws and snap at you."

Feigning a puzzled expression, he added: "That's when they say, 'Oh, it's not a nice, fat sea lion." So they spit you out, and you hemorrhage to death."

Asked if this knowledge had benefited his career at CLSA and, earlier, as top sales trader at Japan's giant Nomura brokerage, he laughed. "Yes," he said, "if you only want to use the client once -- and have your hand on the money."

He had his own mitts on very little as a Lord Nelson Elementary student, even though father Wen Hsiung Chen was a university teacher.  Mother Sylvia would later become a celebrated "dragon" for founding Allcity Importers and becoming the exclusive distributor for VitaSoy soy-milk products.

That's when he got the hots for "$20,000 motorcycles with $100,000-worth of chrome on them." Hip enough to know that today's young want bikes as spare and purposeful as the Aprilia RSVR he rides in Taiwan, he said of the rococo hog: "I have all the chrome. It gives me a dream of accomplishment."

So does "seeing myself as the second coming of Bruce Lee."

The late movie star, he said, "was the first modern Asian hero that all races wanted to emulate.

"Bruce came to North America, and I went to Asia. That's the irony: you're always going to where you have the least powerful skill set. When I went to Asia, in 1996, my Chinese reading and writing skills were very weak."

But not his people skills. Seeking work as an intern at Nike's Singapore office, "I wore a double-breasted suit, put my Air Huaraches on the [interviewer's] table and said: 'This is how much I love Nike. I won't wear dress shoes. You've got to hire me.'"

He got the gig.

But did he, in fact, wear dress shoes then?

"Of course," Chen said, laughing.

- - -


Hong Kong Hustle

Name:  Alan Chen; known on the Trading Desk as “A-Train”
Age:  35; born in the Year of the Dog
Hometown  Vancouver
Location: Hong Kong
Job: Managing Director of Hedge Fund Sales, CLSA (a subsidiary of France’s Crédit Agricole)


I Came Here: To make my own money. My post-MBA job was at my family’s business (an importer of name brand Asian foods), but I felt a need to prove myself overseas. The first thing I did was find a place to live and have dinner at the Peak; that meal was the last posh dinner I would have for an entire year! I also obviously had to find work, as living in Hong Kong is very expensive. It’s no fun scrambling for a job and it took five months to find one. Not a pleasant experience, but a necessary character-building exercise. The biggest shock was the PACE – everything was so fast. Walk, talk, shop, eat, early, late, on-the-fly, report now, action plan yesterday, don’t waste time! The working mentality was “first in; last out”. 
The Best Thing:  Has been the rapid career progression and how the city gives you a better perspective on life.  Hong Kong and Asia accords all who embrace it the opportunity to succeed, provided you hustle and maintain a good attitude – that’s a beautiful thing. On the other hand, you see a lot of burnouts.  
The Biggest Misconception:   About Hong Kong is that it’s easy. Or that it’s hard. It just IS – when you get thrown into the deep end, you’re worried about staying alive, not how easy or hard it is to tread water.
What I Miss Most:  Is the sound of a body check! Live hockey is the greatest game on Earth.The sounds of the boards rattling after a thunderous body check (Gino or Tiger in my day)…*big grin*.
The sound of the quad lifts at Whistler/Blackcomb ranks a close second.
The obvious and true response, however, is seeing my family and the friends who I went to school with – Paul Wu, Tim Fernback, Rich Nichols, Randy Garg, Rob Takeuchi and Tony Gill. They all tease me and keep me grounded. Andrea Eng and Sylvia Chai (Mom) are my heroes. I’d also say Chairman Gary Coull (now deceased) of CLSA.
My Favourite Hangouts:  Are Shek-O Beach and Cheng Chau Island. The sunrise at Shek-O is as sweet as any at English Bay or Spanish Banks. 
The strangest thing I’ve eaten? Nothing’s strange anymore. Goose tongue, cow intestine, snake meat – and you can get it all in Vancouver.
The Nightlife is: Insane. Clubs are open until 6am, the downtown party area of Lan Kwai Fong is madness defined on Fridays and Saturdays.
The People Are: patient...not.    Hong Kongers are busy   Some call it “rude”, but I think the word might be “pre-occupied” 
What BC Could Learn from Hong Kong? How to move masses of people from place to place efficiently 
If I Had To Do It Over Again:   I would flesh out fellow UBC alumni in Hong Kong and try to meet them all. 
My Next Posting:  Will be wherever it takes me.   As long as I’m learning, helping and competing, I’m ok.


Hammerhead Shark Diving off Taiwan's Green Island

One of our favourite people is someone she nick-named 'Kid Rock".   He's a dare devil of sorts and shares with us story and pictures of one of his last dives.  That's him on the left.

From January to March every year, schools of hammerhead sharks are found off the southern tip of Taiwan's Green Island.  It is by all accounts one of the most exhilarating dives one can ever participate in, and this shark dive claims adventurous diver lives nearly every year.   Definitely an advanced dive, given the depth of the dive (30-37m); the fact the hammers prefer strong current (hold onto your face mask!); the waves on the surface push divers under the boat close to the propellers; the waves cause the boat ladders to smash down onto divers upon exit and the fact most divers who see so many large sharks at depth tend to use their air less conservatively than normal, making safe ascents and decompression times more challenging.    

Green Island is accessible by plane or a choppy boat ride from Taitung, a southeastern port city of Taiwan.  It has three prisons and notable former inmates include  President Chen and Vice President Annette Lu, when they were locked up by the KMT (Kuomingtang) for advocating a democratic, independent Taiwan, incorporating free speech and elections during the period of martial law imposed by the KMT. 

The hammerheads are most likely smooth hammerheads, Sphyrna zygaena, with an olive-grey upper body color and great bulging white bellies.  They grow to 13 feet and are 500 - 800 pounds, the females are larger specimens than the males by up to 80cm.   The hammers travel from the Philippines to Japan and hang out in and around Green Island as a rest stop for these few precious months.

It's the third time I've done the dive with CLSA colleagues and clients, most of whom have done their advanced certification and have logged a decent number of dives (over 100). The dive master's apt name is Tiger, a full-body tattooed, beetle-nut chewing, smoking, Gao-liang (58% alcohol, fire-water) drinking 45 yr old man with exceptional diving skills, amazing stories and for lack of a better expletive, bad-ass technique which allows him to dive deep WITHOUT A BCD (BUOYANCY CONTROL DEVICE)!  
The most exhilarating part of the dive?  When Tiger points into the distance and gives the hammerhead signal (move your fists poised at each ear back and forth like you're turning the throttle of a motorbike).  All the divers go, "Huh, I don't see no hammerheads!"   And then voila!  They come into view from the blue expanse, one, two, ten, fifty, a hundred.  Shocking when the big females break off from swimming against the current and veer towards the dive group, stopping but 20 feet away - MAGNIFICENT animals, bulging white bellies reflecting light as they dance against the current - so powerful, so effortless as they swim against the current that threatens to sweep us divers off the coral bottom we are hooked on to.


For those 30 minutes underwater, the only performance you'll be thinking of is trying not to gulp big mouthfuls of air (conserve it!) whilst looking at beasts that have been around thousands of years longer than humans have, let alone the time humans have thought to perform through managing Asian equity invesments.

You want the diving thrill of your life?  This is the one.  The hammer dive at Green Island.   - 2005


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