Man of diversity aims for a world of biodiversity
A word that aptly describes Kimball Christopher Chen is discreet.
“I don’t like to drop names,” the chairman and CEO of Energy Transportation Group, a diversified global conglomerate, said.
The group partners with governments and international organizations to develop, finance and operate businesses in energy, technology, infrastructure and logistics.
It was a partner with the Chinese government in establishing shipping capability for liquefied natural gas (LNG) in southern Guangdong province.
Since 2012, the company has also been involved in developing LNG exports from the United States to European countries interested in diversifying their gas supply. “Energy is key for development,” Chen said. “If you are providing clean energy you are protecting nature along with creating opportunities for development.”
The declared motto of the energy division of his company is to develop clean and low-carbon-footprint energy sources and technologies. “We do only what we believe in,” he said.
As China takes over the presidency of the G20 major economies this year, he said that the country should deepen actionoriented discussions on how to provide affordable and reliable access to energy for everyone.
At present, he serves as chairman of the Global LPG Partnership, a United Nations and European Union-backed body dedicated to planning and financing the transition of 1 billion people to use liquefied petroleum gas by 2030.
“You have to increase access to clean energy to reduce deforestation and to reduce mortality caused by household air pollution,” Chen said.
The conclusion of the most recent World Health Organization studies is that mortality from using wood and charcoal for cooking claims more lives each year than malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis combined.
“Yet, very little has been invested in delivering access to clean cooking fuels,” he said. “The major advantages of LPG are its low cost, high speed to deploy and operate, widely available sources of supply, proven technology and ease of procurement.”
He added that the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of targets for 2030 adopted by the UN in September last year, focus on universal access to energy. However, to deliver this on a sustainable and affordable basis requires an understanding of what to prioritize. “Asia’s developing countries need to do their energy mapping without making any compromise on their development agenda,” he said.
Chen is a regular face as a presenter and panelist at major economic development conferences. He said he believes that if you can communicate your ideas and persuade people to act, you can accomplish many goals.
Chen studied English and Greek literature before embarking on his business career.
He explained that as a teenager he wanted to find out both where his skills lay, and what engaged his interests.
“Your passion has to overlap with what you are good at. Sometimes you are good at something but not passionate about it. Sometimes you are extremely passionate about something, but not good at it.
“I was good at asking questions. But giving answers to those questions took time. It needed experience. I am good at connecting diversity into thoughts.”
The business group that he manages was founded by his father, Christopher Chen ChieYuan, in 1972. ETG, headquartered in the US, quickly became one of the largest shippers of specialty cargoes, including gas.
Chen’s father entered the shipping business in 1946 and became one of the owners of what was to become Marine Transport Lines, one of the world’s largest shippers of bulk cargoes.
The company operated oil tankers, ore ships, molten sulfur carrier vessels and wine carriers as well as gas transports. He sold his interest in that company in 1970 and formed the ETG Group two years later.
After completing his bachelor’s degree at Harvard, Chen started a career as a banker with the then Bank of Boston (now BankBoston after a 1996 merger with BayBank).
“I wanted to have a broader perspective so I decided to work outside the family.
“I wanted to be the subject of discipline and professional evaluation from those who are not my family. It gave me exposure to a range of industries.” After a couple of years serving in London, he quit and enrolled for a master’s in business administration at Harvard. “After completing my MBA I joined my father in his business. I was given the charge of new businesses that were being developed by the group.”
By then his younger brother had joined the family business. The toughest and most critical challenge of planning for succession in the family was done based on merit.
Chen later bought his brother’s share in the family business to consolidate his position.
He noted that disconnection between relatives within family businesses can often lead to the failure of a company. “In Asia that is less so,” he said. “That’s why we see many successful family business enterprises for many generations in the region.”
But the East and the West can learn from each other, he said.
“People-to-people exchange is important in this aspect. For instance, if you look at the relationship between China and the US you will understand that.
“Visits of top leaders have definitely improved relations. But people-to-people exchange is the key. People are key to make this world a better place to live in. We have to involve people and do it for them,” he said.
If you are providing clean energy you are protecting nature along with creating opportunities for development.” Kimball Christopher Chen, chairman and CEO of Energy Transportation Group