Thursday, November 15, 2012

Let me tell you about Peng...

Peng was my Taiji (T'ai Chi) teacher. This is a guy everybody should get to know. He's friendly, outgoing, and a brilliant businessman. He's also doggedly determined, and more disciplined than anyone else I know.

Peng came to Canada looking to earn a living. He started out small, offering just a few classes at a local seniors' centre. As his reputation grew, he found he had enough money on hand to buy a rental property, which he used specifically to put up Chinese university students.

Word of his rentals spread quickly among the Chinese community (being from China and speaking fluent Mandarin helped), and he became a valuable asset in that community. As his teaching grew, he earned enough from both enterprises to open a restaurant.

Not content to merely cook good food, Peng made trips back to China, sometimes three or four times a year, to study both cooking and Taiji. Being a leader in the local Chinese community and in the martial arts community, coupled with constantly improving his skill and never losing sight of the value of customer service made his restaurant a huge success.

In 2000, as part of the July 1 Canada Day celebrations, I was honoured to participate in a public demonstration involving 1,000 people, all members of Peng's T'ai Chi association. That demonstration was the highlight of that year's International Taiji Festival--another first for Thunder Bay.

That festival led to even greater ties between Peng and the martial arts community in Thunder Bay and in China. In 2007, Peng was awarded a 7th duan ranking in Chinese wushu (martial arts). There are only 10 duan, and he was accepted as a disciple of the great Chen Zhenglei, 15th generation grandmaster of the family that invented Taiji in the 1600's!

In 2010, Master Peng opened the Peng You International Taiji Academy in Thunder Bay. He was able to sell his restaurant and do martial arts full-time, realizing his dream of bringing the benefits of Taiji to the world.

The reason I told this story is that this theme is what has opened my eyes to my own shortcomings in business. Peng's success can really be summed up in his association's motto:

Health. Friendship. Happiness.

So Peng represents both the business model and the life-planning model. In business, what did he do?

  1. Start by sharing something he believes in.
  2. Leverage small profits into larger enterprises.
  3. Leverage customers from one enterprise to the next.

The last one is a must-do move if you're building something up, because those people become your best advertising. They are, in essence, your marketing team (come to think of it, I don't think I ever saw an ad for Peng's restaurant outside of the phone book). His marketing plan, then, looked something like this:

  1. Become a respected leader in the community.
  2. Become an authority in the field, and always improve.
  3. Make loyal customers assets who will do the marketing for you.

So, what about the goals? Well, Peng told me all along that his only real goal was to bring Taiji and its health and community benefits to the world. Renting low-cost housing to students and owning a restaurant were only tools to achieve that objective. But they're both still tools based on being of service to his this case, the Chinese cultural community. The wider martial arts community, including his own students, frequented his restaurant, where he always greeted customers personally and had a big smile. Everyone who went there felt they were dining with friends (and this is no exaggeration--he either knew most people by name, or he'd come out and introduce himself and learn your name). He united people across cultural boundaries, age groups, and even in an often deeply divided martial arts community where rivalries had deep roots.

Because he had properties to maintain, a business to run, and a family to raise, Peng was often down at the marina practicing Taiji at 5:00 in the morning. He closed the restaurant every night...I don't think he ever actually slept. His focus and determination was on building a great martial arts community, and that's where his mind stayed. But don't think he did it alone: he had a team of people who helped out by keeping the books on his association, keeping an eye on his properties, attending meetings with officials and dignitaries, and yes, he has the most patient wife in the history of the universe. Everyone did these things willingly because he had helped them in some way. They became personally invested in his vision, and as a result they formed his mastermind group in a spectacularly elegant example of what we might call "community engineering."

In 2006, seven of the foremost grandmasters of the art of taijiquan met in Thunder Bay--their first meeting ever outside of China. Guess who organized it.

Yup. Peng.

And to commemorate that auspicious event, the association and the city built the beautiful and serene Thunder Bay International Taiji Park. The project is ongoing if you'd like to make a donation (, but what you should take away from it is that this is sort of a culmination of a life of determination. Peng could have written either Think and Grow Rich or How To Win Friends and Influence People. He's like a textbook case in action of exactly the kind of manifestation and leadership espoused in those two books.

And, as a humbling coincidence, his full name is Peng Youlian. The Chinese word for "friend" is pengyou. The coincidence is not lost on those who read Chinese in the characters on his association's logo, nor on anyone who comes to know this remarkable leader.


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