We are masters of our own destiny
BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET - Wilson Lee Flores () - December 31, 2007 - 12:00am

Through perseverance many people win success out of what seemed destined to be certain failure. —Benjamin Disraeli

Control your destiny or somebody else will. —Jack Welch

The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind. —William James

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. —William Shakespeare

What do business icons like Richard Branson (who founded Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Group), Charles R. Schwab (who founded the discount brokerage firm bearing his name), John T. Chambers (who built up global IT giant Cisco), and Paul Orfalea (who founded the world-famous Kinko’s copy chain) have in common?

They are all dyslexic — born with a learning disability for reading and spelling. They never gave up or blamed cruel fate; they overcame the odds and were even featured five years ago in an unforgettable cover story by Fortune magazine.

That Fortune story confirms my theory that instead of crisis destroying people, men and women who have been dealt supposedly cruel fates or disadvantaged beginnings can make themselves exceptional successes with a positive attitude and fortitude of character.

Just this month, The New York Times reported that researchers doing a survey found that a “staggering” 35 percent of entrepreneurs in the US have dyslexia, compared to a 2001 study showing that 20 percent of entrepreneurs surveyed in Britain have dyslexia.

Recently, during the Christmas holidays, one of Southeast Asia’s top rags-to-riches billionaires called my cell phone to verify the details of some anecdotes I had shared with him about several immigrant self-made taipans in the Philippines. These taipans were adopted sons and remarkable twists of fate did not derail their magnificent destinies.

One taipan was at dinner with his kids and recounted to them those fascinating anecdotes, perhaps to remind them of the unexpected miracles in life that we should always be thankful for. Our destiny is ultimately in our own hands.

Here are some of my anecdotes on poor, immigrant adopted kids who mastered their destinies to become tycoons:

• Two taipans of different generations are said to be adopted sons, sold by their poor rural parents in Fujian province, south China, during that era of Western colonial impositions, Japanese military invasions, domestic political corruption and bloody revolutions. They were sold to ordinary families who migrated to the Philippines to struggle for economic opportunities — similar to our modern-day overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) running away from corrupt politics and economic uncertainty.

One taipan, who became famous in the 1960s, was adopted due to his innate intelligence after he and his brothers were tested by each having to carry a big wooden stick horizontally while walking through a door. Only this future taipan of the 1960s instinctively changed the position of his hold on the wooden stick from horizontal to vertical, allowing him to pass through the door and to be selected by his adoptive parents. As a kid, this adopted son literally grew up on the streets and had to work hard to gain respectability and success.

This saga was recounted to me by my nephew, whose father is my cousin married to the eldest daughter of this famous taipan. This taipan not only brought prestige to his adoptive family, at one time he also made himself king of sugar and rice and was the founder of a major bank. Philippine presidents sought his counsel and he was a great civic leader of the Chinese business community.

• Another famed modern-day business leader once recounted to me that whenever he didn’t study well as a child, his late father would use a stick to hit his hands so hard they would almost bleed. Since it is an open secret that he is an adopted son, was it possible that his father was stricter in training him than his siblings because the kid wasn’t his own flesh and blood? I have heard many tragic tales of parents who don’t have the heart to spank or discipline their kids out of a misplaced sense of love, thus condemning them to become possible future spoiled brats, black sheep or worthless bums.

• One of the modern-day rags-to-riches billionaires in the Philippines was reportedly the adopted son of an ordinary couple from Fujian, south China. How come a humble couple ended up buying this boy when in the first place they were not rich themselves? The story goes that the boy’s original parents were so poor in then politically unstable China that the father carried a bamboo pole with a basket holding one boy at each end. On the road, they met an ordinary couple who said they could afford to buy only one son, and they chose the other boy instead of the future taipan.

Now, instead of the father carrying the bamboo pole with two kids, it had to be both his father and mother supporting the bamboo pole from both ends, with their son — the future tycoon — in a basket on the middle of the pole. When they finally bumped into another couple, the desperate parents pleaded with them to buy their son at an even lower price so that he could escape their abject poverty. That was how this boy was sold to parents who eventually migrated to the Philippines for a life of constant struggle. This ordinary immigrant couple never became rich, but their adopted son imbibed their Confucian ethic and had the extraordinary drive to claim his eventual destiny. He studied well, worked hard, saved, did business and became a celebrated success.

• The most outstanding elder of our clan — a second-cousin and close friend of my late grandfather — was born in the late 19th century to a rural couple who was so poor they needed to sell one of their sons in order to survive. When the Fujian-based kin of our Philippine lumber business clan went to choose, they selected and paid for his brother for adoption. Days later, when the buyers came to fetch the pre-selected kid, he was then suffering from loose bowel movement (LBM) and was too sick, so the embarrassed parents surreptitiously switched kids and brought out the other son.

This serendipitously adopted boy was sold to my great-grandfather’s first-cousin and his newlywed wife to be their eldest son, automatically becoming a fifth-generation scion of what was then perhaps the most successful lumber business clan in the Philippines founded by my rags-to-riches great-great-grandfather Dy Han Kia (whose own father and grand-uncle had created modest wealth in the Philippines that didn’t last beyond three generations). Dy Han Kia had only one son and one daughter from his two wives, so he adopted three other sons — mostly the kids of his brothers — perhaps starting our forebears’ “lucky” 19th- and 20th-century tradition of buying and adopting sons from hardscrabble parts of rural China to add to our family’s male progeny. 

Remarkably, unlike the other usually rich kids of our clan who often fumbled through life aimlessly, habitually ruining their share of the once vast family fortune, this adopted son of my great-granduncle had the uncommon drive of a hungry first-generation immigrant combined with the best Chinese and Western education given by his adoptive parents. His unique entrepreneurial prowess and great character not only helped regenerate our clan’s business fortunes and social prestige, it also made him one of the most legendary activist tycoons and civic leaders of his time in all of Southeast Asia.

It is not true that people are helpless victims of unfair kapalaran or fate, and that others or bad luck are to blame. It is also not true that people only become successful through luck, connections or cheating, despite what many politicians and their cohorts try to do. True success comes from the good luck of hard work, integrity and faith.

As the new year dawns, let us count our blessings, renew ourselves, overcome all challenges or difficulties with invincible positive thinking and be masters of our own destiny. Let us work hard, dare to dream, pray and boldly claim our birthright of success!

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Thanks for your messages; all will be answered. Comments or suggestions welcome at willsoonflourish@gmail.com or wilson_lee_flores@yahoo.com.

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