“Shall we do this lying down?” proposes Chavalit Frederick Tsao. The towering figure with a crown of wavy, carelessly tousled hair and a piercing gaze isn’t getting fresh. He is simply being his candid and non-conformist self. Tsao has swept into the interview room just after delivering the keynote speech at the Global Wellness Summit that drew a standing ovation. Earlier on, the 62-year-old had also spoken at the Forbes Global CEO Conference, alongside the likes of Jack Ma and PM Lee Hsien Loong. Naturally, he is exhausted. Doing this interview horizontally sprawled – like you’d imagine at a psychiatric counselling session – seems perfectly reasonable, albeit a little unorthodox. Clearly, Tsao has a different approach to things – be it global economic issues or interpersonal relationships. He is a fourth-generation business owner who grew his family’s Singapore-based multi-industrial conglomerate IMG Group beyond the imagination of his father, the late, formidable Frank Tsao. He is a wellness retreat founder – one who relishes meditation as much as he loves his cigars and wine. And now, he is proposing a radical theory to world leaders – that a holistic understanding of wellness is key to addressing the problems of the new economy.
This realisation came from running the family business. “The third generation is often the deadline for family businesses – ours is now running on overtime. Yet if I fail, my whole family is going to blame me and I will grow old and lonely,” he says matter-of-factly. So, he researched sustainability, and discovered that the continuation of a business is intertwined with the sustainability of its greater environment, but also boils right down to the sustainability of the individual. And when it comes to the personal level, passion and purpose are what keep people going. This is where wellness comes in.
SIGN OF THE TIMES
“Businesses serve the well-being of people – it is a means to achieve what we want and desire. But what is well-being? What do we desire now, in a materialistic world? Does it really bring us to where we want?” questions Tsao. To him, well-being is “an alignment and unification process where you become at one with yourself”. It is only through this process that one can truly identify their deepest desires, and Tsao sees a critical mass in the form of a younger generation – perhaps freed from the burdens of survivalist thinking to which their parents subscribed – seeking purpose in what they do.
“I believe that we are in an era, predicted in Buddhist scriptures, when there will be no more religion, yet it is also when people delve deeper than religion. It is a different paradigm,” he says.
“This era is built on the age of enlightenment and the scientific revolution called the quantum paradigm – one different from the scientific paradigm of Isaac Newton. Quantum computers with capabilities a zillion times faster than existing systems; quarks; time travel; space travel. We will be witnessing a lot of technological changes, and the rest of the world will be changing too. And if the world is changing, its economic model will have to change too.” And in Tsao’s view, it should be moving towards one where well-being – rather than income – becomes the measure of success for a business, or even a nation.
This isn’t just one man’s theory. We are in a time CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are pledging to move from maximising shareholder value to positive social impact for stakeholders – from staff to suppliers, from customers to communities; when Minister of State for Happiness is an official position in a government; when nations are ranked by the happiness of their people. There is worldwide recognition at all levels that there needs to be systemic change.
There is one problem, though: The economists and politicians of the world today who are supposed to lead us into this new era are still stuck in the old ways of thinking.
“All the CEOs out there are using the same SWOT analysis and attending the same talks.”
TSAO, ON THE NEED FOR BREAKOUT THINKING
“All the CEOs out there are using the same SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis and attending the same talks. They need a new way of thinking to give them a differentiating strategy,” observes Tsao. And on a larger scale: World leaders cannot solve new problems with an old mindset. “You need a paradigm shift in thinking to solve the problems… and for that paradigm shift in thinking to happen, you need to go through an awakening process (that is a wellness journey),” says Tsao.
Thus Sangha Retreat was created in Suzhou, China. Opened in 2017, the high-end hospitality estate built on a man-made peninsula in the middle of Yangcheng Lake has since been finessed into a 360-degree medical wellness retreat where one gets the absolute optimal marriage between East and West: where Oriental therapies – from qi gong to TCM – are complemented by Western medical science, where facilities such as a sound healing dome and healing spa with a 12-stage hydrothermal circuit sit alongside state-of-the-art movement studios and gyms.
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It is where you can fine-tune your physical health through medical analysis and sublime meals, get in touch with your inner self through mindfulness activities such as meditation and yoga, and calm your mind through classes that incorporate the sound of singing bowls.
Yet beyond a place for rest and relaxation, Tsao also envisions this place as a platform for leadership retreats and summits. Tsao’s emphasis on building an enlightened group of leaders is reflected the name of the resort: “Sangha” is the Sanskrit word for “community”. “While it is an individual journey you will be embarking on – for everybody is unique in their subconsciousness, conditioning, emotions, and assumptions – it is the community that holds a mirror up for you and helps you with your growth,” says Tsao.
Yet, more importantly, it is with this collective consciousness – and a new creativity – that change can be advanced. And when you harness this creativity, you will be able to interact with the world – be it as an entrepreneur, a politician, or even an artist – with “passion, love and purpose.” That, in Tsao’s book, is exactly what the new world needs.
IN HIS WORDS
Frederick Tsao on well-being and business.
ON HOW EVERY INDIVIDUAL JOURNEY IS UNIQUE
“Well-being is an alignment and unification process that shouldn’t be measured. The minute you start to measure it, or compare yourself to others – whether one is spending more or less time meditating, eating meat or being vegan, smoking or not – you will lose direction. Just keep on the right path.”
ON PARALLELS BETWEEN PERSONAL AND CORPORATE JOURNEYS
“This is the same for family businesses. You have to think very long term if you are going to last many generations. Some businesses might take 15 years to make a profit – but nobody else is going to compete with you in that space if you can run the course.”
ON ENTERING THE MEDICAL TOURISM INDUSTRY
“I want to feel good, I want other people to feel good, and I want to make money while doing it – there is no conflict. All activities of economy should serve human well-being.”
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF CREATIVE THINKING IN THE NEW ECONOMY
“I see more young people seeking purpose. They seek things that inspire that purpose – and that purpose creates passion and motivation. The passion in turn ignites a creative zone in your brain. And you know what? When AI comes, creativity is the only thing we will pay for.”
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