Uncle Jim

I was told Uncle Jim is the second-richest person in Taiwan, but a Google search yielded nothing. Asian parents tend to exaggerate these kinds of things, as well as their importance relative to softer outputs like love, happiness and fulfillment.

It is possible Uncle Jim is listed in another country, given that he is the founder and CEO of a publicly traded global corporation. I don’t really care to investigate further. Details only erode mystique.

Besides, I like the idea of having an über rich uncle. Now, he certainly can’t be Uber rich, as in the ride-sharing company valued at $51 billion. But I am comfortable with using a lower-case über after Uncle Jim flew me out to Shanghai five years ago for the opening of his new facility. Anyone running that show does not play the $5 blackjack tables at Casino Royale.

He put me up in a penthouse suite and took me through the high-roller treatment at restaurants and bars at the top of skyscrapers. The guy is loaded with real wealth and influence. I suppose everybody has a rich uncle, right? Or a gay one. Or a crazy one. Or one in jail. Basically the uncle position lends itself well to a one-adjective description.

By the way, Uncle Jim is not really my uncle. He is my mom’s cousin. The uncle title is applied liberally in my culture, which takes some of the fun out of my fiancée’s favorite pastime of referring to random Asians walking by as my parents, uncles or cousins.

The running racial joke has long run its course at this point, but it does have its moments. While boarding a flight to Chicago, my fiancée told me Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was standing behind us in line. Assuming she just meant a really tall black guy, I didn’t even turn around and was more focused on her impressive NBA reference.

She then had to clarify that it was literally Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I snuck a glance over my shoulder and took in all 7-foot-2 and 68 years of him.

It was surreal walking past the legendary player in the O’Hare baggage claim, where he was slumped in a chair with no one around him. While waiting for a cab, I forced myself to march back inside and at least say something to the league’s all-time leading scorer.

I didn’t want to introduce myself with the standard “I’m a big fan…” There is no franchise in sports that I enjoy watching lose more than the Lakers. If they ever went 0-82, I would tattoo it on my forehead and funnel all income toward purchasing Jack Nicholson’s seats.

After quick deliberation, I settled on complimenting his social commentary pieces. This was still a lie, as I had not yet read any of them. But it was a unique enough way to break the ice that if he wanted to give me an opening, navigating the start to a decent conversation wouldn’t be too difficult.

Alas, Kareem only offered a soft “thank you,” maybe two. I don’t know if he was being dismissive as much as fatigued. He looked very worn down, and I suppose folding that body at that age onto a commercial plane to travel halfway across the country can be taxing. I’m pretty sure Dirk Nowitzki would have given me a hug though.

Whatever. I don’t need Kareem’s love. I have Uncle Jim. And while I am too genetically distant to inherit any of his business acumen or stocks, I am in position to observe and learn.

Take this scenario from a few years ago. Uncle Jim flew a contingent of American relatives to Bali for his sister’s wedding. During a stopover in Taipei, he arranged for four of us to go to the hottest nightclub.

He walked us to the entrance and wanted to get us situated at our bottle-service VIP table inside. But the security wouldn’t let him in because he was wearing shorts. He told them not to worry about it and let him through. They refused.

At this point, my easygoing cousin and I were like, “Uncle Jim, it’s cool. Let’s just go to a bar or something.” This is how non-CEO’s think. It is very linear reasoning:

1. This place does not allow shorts.
2. I am wearing shorts.
3. Therefore, I cannot go to this place.

CEOs have another kind of linear reasoning. They spend their time on big problems and see little ones in black and white, with a clear path to the desired outcome. You know what I mean if you’ve ever tried explaining a real problem in your mind to this type of person, and he almost makes you feel stupid by reducing it to a bottom-line simplicity.

After a few minutes of going back and forth with security, trying to convey how it wasn’t a big deal, Uncle Jim gave up. In a nonchalant but not demeaning way, he said, “So give me some pants.” His reasoning diverged with ours at step 3. He never considered not getting done what he wanted done.

And wouldn’t you know it, one of the guards went inside and got him some pants.

I saw this kind of thing happen again when Uncle Jim took me into some elite airline status members lounge even though I wasn’t allowed in there. He just kept repeating to the employee “Meh-suh,” which roughly translates from Chinese to “No problem.”

The employee had to get her boss, and again, Uncle Jim kept telling them not to worry about it without giving a good reason why. It was pretty much a tacit direction to either consider this to be no problem or figure it out yourself.

Eventually we sat down, and Uncle Jim even made me order food. Those were some good noodles, too.

Obviously it’s a lot easier to bull your way through obstacles with a certain amount of digits in your bank account. But Uncle Jim wasn’t handed anything in life. He didn’t grow up with much and had to earn every bit of that position.

I don’t think this attitude of minimizing problems developed out of entitlement. I think it was there from the beginning to sustain him as an entrepreneur and leader. I have noticed a similar quality in people I’ve worked with and under, whom I respect. They just have a way of making problems seem small. And that enables them to do big things.