One of the most famous names in Asian shipping, Chang Yung-fa, died this morning, aged 88. The founder of Evergreen Group built up Asia’s largest containerline as well as airline Eva Air.
Chang lived and breathed shipping all his life, refusing to step back from the empire he had built up since the 1960s. Born in 1927, the son of a seafarer, Chang began his maritime career at the age of 14, working for Japanese line Miname Nippon Steamship’s office in the city of Keelung in northern Taiwan. Taiwan at the time was under Japanese control. Chang would remain very close to Japan throughout his life, showering yards there with massive orders.
After World War II, he joined the seagoing staff of a local shipping company as third officer. His subsequent career was spent with various local companies and he progressed through the ranks to captain.
In 1961, Chang and some friends jointly established a shipping company and, having helped this company to develop, he decided to branch out on his own, establishing Evergreen Marine Corporation on September 1, 1968 with just one secondhand 15,000 dwt bulker, Central Trust.
Over the next four years, Chang built his fleet up to twelve, running them empty when necessary to convince his customers his services were regular and reliable. Within a year, he had expanded to the Middle East. Within three, Chang was dispatching Evergreen ships to the Caribbean.
In 1975, Chang realized that containerisation was the way forward. He built four advanced S-type container ships and launched his US East Coast service. Fifteen months later, he added the West coast of the United States to his network. Europe followed in 1979.
By 1984, he started his most ambitious service yet- two 80-day round-the-world services, one circling the globe in an easterly direction, the other westward. Departing every 10 days, the 20 G-type container ships he employed had a capacity of 2,728 containers each and could travel at a speed of 20.5 knots.
Chang was feted the world over – friends with top politicians, never afraid to voice his opinion on current affairs and not shy when it came to denouncing rivals.
Evergreen always has done things its own way – rarely following others. It stayed out of container alliances for a long time, and held off ordering the largest containerships longer than most.
The group employs more than 27,000 employees and Chang’s wealth has been estimated at $1.69bn, not that his sons are likely to see much of it.
In 2012, Chang, Taiwan’s answer to Warren Buffet, announced he would leave his entire wealth to charity. “The happiness from earning a lot of money is fleeting because of the pain you feel when you lose it,” were his sage words.
An Evergreen spokesperson told Splash today Chang’s third son, Chang Kuo-cheng, would take over the position of group chairman.
With additional reporting by Jason Jiang.