EDITORIAL: Wang Yung-ching: to the very end

Sun, Oct 19, 2008 - Page 8

Wang Yung-ching (王永慶), who died on Wednesday at the age of 91, is considered one of the most influential entrepreneurs in Taiwan. For many Taiwanese, he was a successful businessman who built his fortune from scratch.

Wang’s death caused fears that Formosa Plastics Group’s (台塑集團) business plans and operations would decline without its spiritual leader. It also brought about a feeling of loss for a legendary businessman who may have no equal in Taiwan, now or in the future.

Share prices of the group’s 10 subsidiaries listed on the nation’s main bourse all plunged by their daily limit on Thursday, indicating the lack of confidence of investors after Wang’s death. Those shares recouped most of their losses in Friday trading, but uncertainty will remain as long as the issue of Wang’s successor is unsettled.

Forbes magazine in June rated Wang the nation’s second-wealthiest person with a fortune of US$6.8 billion. Many in Taiwan credit the deceased businessman simply for being a household name.

Wang was a straightforward man who was known to take risks. Paying their last respects, mourners praised the tycoon for his clear-cut decision-making and emphasis on operational efficiency. They also credited his pragmatism and farsighted business initiatives.

The establishment of Formosa Plastics Corp (台塑) in 1954 and of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital (長庚醫院) — the nation’s largest and most profitable hospital chain — in 1976 are two of his most conspicuous accomplishments. His leadership of the two groups earned Wang the nickname “god of management.”

Wang was a human being, however, and did make mistakes over the decades, especially in a televised debate with then-Ilan County commissioner Chen Ding-nan (陳定南) in 1987, when he argued for the establishment of the Sixth Naphtha Cracker plant in the county’s Lize Industrial Park (利澤工業區).

Straightforward but not as eloquent as Chen, Wang lost the debate over environmental protection and economic growth. Formosa Plastics was forced to search for other sites to build the naphtha cracker and finally found one in Mailiao Township (麥寮), Yunlin County, in 1991.

Wang also experienced disappointing results from investments in automobile manufacturing and plasma-display panel making. He closed Formosa Automobile Corp last year after shutting down Formosa Plasma Display Corp in 2005.

But it was his secret meeting with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) in 1989 in Beijing and his criticism of former president Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) “no haste, be patient” trade policy toward China that raised eyebrows across the Taiwan Strait — after he was forced to give up on a proposed petrochemical project in Fujian Province in 1992. To this day, Taiwanese debate Wang’s backing of a closer relationship with China and his acceptance of Beijing’s “one China” policy.

To many Taiwanese, Wang’s legacy not only stems from the Formosa Plastics Group, but also from his straightforward attitude and his concern for corporate responsibility toward employees and shareholders.

His lifelong commitment to hard work and thrift is respectable. His passing away on a business trip to the US, even though he had retired in 2006, reflects his devotion to work — until the very end.