Chang Yung-fa, Taiwan's Evergreen Group Founder, Dies at 88

  • Chang built business group starting with used bulk vessel
  • Founder called himself `a natural-born son of the ocean'

Chang Yung-fa, the billionaire founder of Evergreen Group who turned a second-hand bulk carrier into Asia’s biggest container-shipping line, has died. He was 88.

Chang Yung-fa. Photographer: AFP/Getty Images
Chang Yung-fa. Photographer: AFP/Getty Images

He died at 11:05 a.m. on Jan. 20, Evergreen Group said in an e-mail. No cause was given.

Chang, the son of a seaman, started building his business almost five decades ago by buying a used bulk vessel and became one of Taiwan’s richest people. He was chairman of Taipei-based Evergreen Group, which owns Asia’s largest container fleet through Evergreen Marine Corp.; EVA Airways Corp., the island’s largest airline by market value; Evergreen Sky Catering Corp., an airline-catering company; and hotel chain Evergreen International Hotels.

Chang has a fortune of at least $1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. “The oceans and ships occupy very important places in my life,” Chang wrote in his autobiography, published in 1997. The tycoon called himself “a natural-born son of the ocean.”

Evergreen Marine, the company that kick-started his business empire, was established in 1968 with the used bulk vessel. It since expanded into an operator of more than 190 ships, according to information from shipping-data provider Alphaliner.

The company posted a net loss of NT$2.41 billion ($72 million) in the quarter ended September compared with a profit a year earlier, as a global economic slowdown hurt shipping.

China Relations

Chang also was an advocate of closer economic relations between Taiwan and China. In 2008, Taiwanese and Chinese airlines including his group’s EVA Airways began regular flights across the Taiwan Strait after the lifting of a six-decade ban on direct transport links.

His personal holdings as of Dec. 31 included 6 percent of publicly traded Evergreen Marine and 2.9 percent of EVA Airways, Taiwan’s largest airline by market value, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. His youngest son, Chang Kuo-wei, is chairman of EVA Airways. Evergreen Group is the benefactor of non-profit organizations such as a maritime museum and symphony orchestra, its website shows.

Shipping Clerk

Born Oct. 6, 1927, in Taiwan’s northeastern coastal town of Suao, Chang was the third of seven children. He started working as a clerk for a Japanese shipping company as a teenager while attending night school and went on to spend 15 years as a sailor, rising to the rank of captain, according to his memoirs.

Chang became the family’s breadwinner when his father died in 1944, as his two elder brothers had married by then, according to the book.

He was married in 1953 and had four sons and a daughter. In 1989, his son Chang Kuo-ming was kidnapped for a $1.9 million ransom. The younger Chang was eventually released unharmed, and his three kidnappers were apprehended and executed by Taiwanese authorities the following year, the Associated Press reported at the time.

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