Photo by Malcolm Parry
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!
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
Andrea Eng feted MBA classmate Alan Chen on being Taiwan Country Head of
investment bank CLSA
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
- - -
BC BUSINESS MAGAZINE October
Hong Kong Hustle
||Alan Chen; known on
the Trading Desk as “A-Train”
||35; born in the Year
of the Dog
||Managing Director of
Hedge Fund Sales, CLSA (a subsidiary of France’s Crédit Agricole)
||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”.
||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
||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.
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
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.
||Are Shek-O Beach and
Cheng Chau Island. The sunrise at Shek-O is as sweet as any at English
Bay or Spanish Banks.
strangest thing I’ve eaten?
anymore. Goose tongue, cow intestine, snake meat – and you can get it
all in Vancouver.
||Insane. Clubs are
open until 6am, the downtown party area of Lan Kwai Fong is madness
defined on Fridays and Saturdays.
Hong Kongers are busy Some call it “rude”, but I think
the word might be “pre-occupied”
BC Could Learn from Hong Kong?
||How to move masses of
people from place to place efficiently
I Had To Do It Over Again:
||I would flesh out
fellow UBC alumni in Hong Kong and try to meet them all.
||Will be wherever it
takes me. As long as I’m learning, helping and competing,
Hammerhead Shark Diving off Taiwan's Green
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
Green Island is accessible by plane or a choppy boat ride from
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
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. -