I would like to thank everyone for being here to honor the life of my father Cyrus Tang, Most of you have been touched by directly or indirectly - but most of you are unfamiliar with his story.
He was a man of few words, modest, understated and not one to brag or trumpet his successes. I’m here tell you a little about his amazing story, his accomplishments
and about his journey from a small village outside of Shanghai to the United States, and his reconnection back to China in later years.
China to US
-Dad was born in a village named Shenze near Shanghai in 1930.
-In 1937 the Japanese invaded China and took over Shanghai that year ( War from 1937-1945 war ended after atomic bombs) My Grandfather, my dad’s father moved the family to Chungking and then to Hong Kong -In December, 1941, same morning Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded Hong Kong. Two weeks later Hong Kong, which was controlled by the British surrendered to the Japanese. My grandfather set up an escape route for Dad and family to Chungking. He and family members put on peasant clothes and traveled for weeks by foot, truck and boat to Chungking -After the war Dad ended up going back to high school in Hong Kong -In 1950 When he was 20 years old he boarded a slow boat to San Francisco and then took a long train ride to the city of Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania to attend what was the Penn Military academy and what is now Widener University.
-He attended college a couple of years, funds got cut off, and he moved to Chicago Dad met my mother in Chicago. They did not know each other before. My mother came to the US also for college at Duquesne in Omaha, Nebraska. She came to Chicago after she finished. They met, married, had me in 1954 then my sister four years later.
So Dad is in Chicago, he’s started a family and struggling to survive. But what has come of the rest of the Tang’s in China? A world war and a civil war in China has just ended. Most of the Tang family were able to leave mainland China and scattered to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada, Australia, and the United States. Dad was to bring together much of his family to the Chicago area working with him in the company. His brothers, sisters, and other relatives and friends came to Chicago to work for the company. Dad and Mom worked together to strengthen the family. Dad offered opportunity and tried to find a place for his family and friends, while Mom was the social glue that kept everyone together.
Life in America:
Dad came to the US in 1950. He started his first 100% owned company in 1964. What was he doing for 14 years before he started his own business. For the first two years he was attending university. His funding got cut off and he never finished. By the way he did not set a good example here - don’t follow his footsteps - finish your schooling! He moved to Chicago for better work opportunities. Life was a struggle. He started a small dry cleaning business, he worked in a ship year, delivered newspapers, he was a waiter and later a restaurant owner. The restaurant failed, no one really knew how to cook. He tried the import-export business, he imported wigs and purses and exported keychains. My mother worked and I remember they dropped me off during the day with a babysitter who took care of me until work was finished. We lived in a small apartment and took buses for transportation. By chance Dad finally got a job as a clerk in a steel stamping company that made electric motor and transformer parts. Then he started getting ideas how to start his own business.
-When describing CT business accomplishments you think of Tang Industries and National Material and the steel businesses. Since the start of the company in 1964 there have been over 150 companies started or purchased which span not only steel related business, but include businesses in aluminum, specialty metals, in office furniture, travel services, various trading businesses, renewable energy, pharmaceuticals, biomedicine, insurance, auto parts, airplane parts, and many more.
-in 1964 he started his first wholly owned company, National Material which was a steel processing and distribution company. He bought companies that weren’t doing well and looked to turn them around. In 1971 he started Tang Industries. Dad was doing leveraged buy-outs before it became a common financial term. He was starting companies way before entrepreneurship became fashionable.
-I joined the company full time 36 years ago. All of a sudden Cyrus was not only my dad but my bosses boss. His idea of mentoring was to give me a responsibility, like a small company to run, and let me figure it out, sink or swim.
-What did I learn from him? Business was about people. How you built a business was just as important building the bottom line. Here are some of the values that have been passed on to me:
-Honoring a deal. “A deal is a deal”. He came from a time when a handshake was as good as a contract. He invested tens of millions based on a handshake.
-“Past is past” you can’t change the past, look to changing the future -Sense of urgency, get things done now, don’t wait -He had a profound sense of fairness, great sense of right and wrong and how to treat employees, partners, suppliers and customers.
Success in business gave him the ability to give to charity. But just writing checks was not enough. He looked for impact and value.
-Dad was always impressed by the generosity of Americans and the culture of philanthropy in the US. He started giving in US but got serious after he first returned from China in 1995. Very simply, he could do a lot more with the same amount of money in China compared to the US.
-since the start of the Cyrus Tang Foundation over 20 years ago the Foundation has been involved in over 65 major projects:
CTF has built over 250 grade schools in impoverished areas. It has funded a University Library, a medical center, a 1000 bed community hospital, a national level nano technology center, CTF has funded programs in archeology, cultural preservation, public health initiatives, rural economic development programs - and many more.
- Dad’s proudest philanthropic achievement are the scholarship programs developed for students. Currently CTF is helping to support students in 22 universities, students in 420 high schools, in 10 provinces. Since the start, there have been 100,000 scholarships granted for students from high school, university and in graduate studies. There are over 10,000 university alumni, and along the way there have been marriages and children among the alumni. Dad was honored to officiate many marriages.
-in 2010 Bill Gates and Warren Buffet started something called the ‘Giving Pledge”, where wealthy people committed to give to charity half of their wealth during their lifetime. Dad had already planned to do that years before; once dad was ahead of the curve. But he did it in Dad fashion, quietly without a need to tell others or make a big deal about it.
D. Who was dad?
-He was constantly creating something from nothing -he valued independence, self starters, those who could take advantage of opportunity -he operated by intuition, he had an incredibly strong will to succeed, but also recognized when to give up and turn another direction.
-Oh by the way dad seemed to be a quiet man except when he got angry then he got loud and scary -of course he wasn’t perfect:
He was not introspective until later years when he was hampered by declining mobility and energy. He first pondered what more could he have done.
I asked what was enough? Why are you unhappy with what you’ve done? No answer - it was his nature always to do more.
-A few years ago when he was relatively healthy he said “Michael, let’s take a walk” we got into the car, “where are we going?” “Don’t worry just follow my directions” a few minutes later we pulled up into the parking lot of a Target. Well we were in Las Vegas during the summer, so we weren’t walking outside. Inside I pulled out a shopping cart for him, which was the the perfect height for him to hold. He put his cane in the cart and we started walking up and down the aisles. He liked it there - it was air conditioned, clean, and there was a bit of people watching. We walked for a while and he said to me “Michael, I like it here, I want to buy one of these...” My mind was racing no please don’t do this. I don’t want to own a Target. It wasn’t the purchase that bothered me - I was trying to figure out who was going to manage a Target. Fortunately he forgot about it.... But Dad was still thinking about doing a deal!
-Toward the end he pondered family and friends, as family and friends started dying before him. Toward the end he realized the importance of family and friends and of emotional connections. He was able to say “I love you”.
It’s still hard to think of dad in the past tense, but what has he left for the future?
What is Cyrus Tang’s legacy?
He’s left family, two children and 5 grandchildren, he’s left a living growing business, and he’s left a thriving philanthropy. His actions and deeds have influenced hundreds of thousands of people. Everyone here has been touched by him. Everyone here has been part of his story. I am proud, and grateful, and humbled to have him as my father, and to continue his legacy.