Wed, Oct 24, 2007
The Straits Times
'I'm a legend - better than Warren Buffett'
MR JAMES Phang is pumped up with self-belief and confidence, even though a business linked to him is now under scrutiny by the Singapore authorities.
'I'm a legend. I'm very good - better than Warren Buffett,' he declares, referring to the United States investment guru.
Mr Phang claims to control more than US$300 million (S$439 million) in assets.
'We acquire companies like you go to market buying beancurd,' says Mr Phang, a motivational speaker who claims to have over one million students worldwide.
'When I begin my seminars, my loyal participants would shout: 'Father, I love you!',' he says.
Mr Phang, 48, is a charismatic adviser to Sunshine Empire, a multilevel marketing (MLM) firm that has proven to be very popular - but also controversial.
BARELY 16 months into operations here, his MLM arm, Sunshine, was last month placed on the Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS') investor alert list. This list names people or firms who may be conducting activities regulated by the MAS without authority.
Mr Phang, who works from a huge office in the Toa Payoh hub, is the founder, director and international president of Empire Group Alliance, a group spanning several Asian countries.
Sunshine is part of the group, but Mr Phang does not own it.
The group has interests in network marketing, entertainment, energy, real estate, telecommunications, health and beauty, insurance, and finance.
Its property arm, Empire Property Venture, is involved in several projects in Malaysia worth US$200 million. These include the 30-storey Empire State Tower in Kuala Lumpur, Sunshine Villa - which will house a medical centre - as well as a marine theme park with underwater accommodation in Malacca.
Empire Group's assets exceed US$300 million, he says.
Mr Phang is careful to emphasise that he 'will not harm anyone and my businesses are legal'.
He says it has taken five years to conceive Sunshine's business model, which he calls revolutionary and superior to others.
At Sunshine, people signing up as merchants under specific plans to shop on its online shopping platform get consumer rebates known as 'e-points', which can be used for online shopping or converted to cash. The rebates are not guaranteed.
UNLIKE other MLM firms, Sunshine does not require its 'merchants' to meet a certain sales volume every month - part of its attraction.
Sunshine's online shopping platform reflects Mr Phang's belief in creating wealth.
'We have entered into an era whereby imagination is much more important than knowledge and creativity, much more effective than productivity,' he says.
MR PHANG'S vast business empire belies a humble beginning. Growing up at a vegetable farm in Lim Chu Kang, he worked hard to pay for his studies through various jobs, including construction work.
He left school after O levels and worked at a shipyard while studied for his A levels at night. A medical condition caused his left eye to go blind when he was sitting for his final exams at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
After graduating from NUS with a degree in economics and statistics, he joined the Chinese evening paper, Shin Min Daily News, where he worked as a features writer from 1984 to 1990.
He, however, found his niche in sales, starting at age 19 with door-to-door sales, selling AMC stainless steel cooking utensils, health items and other various products.
'I've sold everything. I'm a walking MLM dictionary. My aim is to grow Sunshine to be a global leading MLM firm with US$2 billion by next year,' he says.
He started MLM firm Number One Product, which sold magnetic mattresses, in 1990.
The Empire Group Alliance was set up in 2003.
Mr Phang is married with four children, ages 13 to 21.
What do you think?