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A New York Philanthropist's Way to China

2016-11-10 本文来自:《国际人才交流》2016/10 作者:June Mei 分享 |

n the Emigrant Savings Bank building, the chairman’s floor, the classically elegant decoration creates an atmosphere unique to traditional American Businesses. If it were not for the shelves of the Siku Quanshu, the calligraphy hanging in the office,  and the Chairman’s self-introduction in Chinese, it would be very hard to imagine that this traditional American family business had such deep ties to China.

“Hello. My name Mi Hao Wen.” Mr. Howard Milstein, Chairman of the New York Emigrant Savings Bank and Chairman of Milstein Properties revealed in his authentic and elegant Chinese name that he has a good understanding of Chinese culture.

“’Hao’ represents brightness and insight,” ‘wen’ represents culture and humanism. I hope that I can be what my name implies and use the sincerity and vision of the Milstein family toward philanthropy to build a bridge of communication between China and the United States.”

In the year 2011, under the leadership of Howard Milstein, the Milstein family, so prominent in New York commercial and philanthropic circles, established the Milstein Medical Asian-American Partnership Foundation (MMAAPF). Its goal is to provide support for exchanges and collaborative research between the most outstanding experts from medical research institutions in the United States, China and other Asian countries, and to raise standards of medicine and healthcare globally.

This October, because of the contributions of the MMAAPF to promoting medicine in China, Mr. Milstein will be awarded the Marco Polo Award given by the China Association for International Exchanges of Personnel.

The MMAAPF

Why would an entrepreneur from far away New York choose to come to China to engage in medical philanthropy?

“The history of medical philanthropy between China and the United States can be traced back to the contributions made by the Rockefeller family’s foundation to the Peking union   medical college in 1915. Today, 100 years later, we also hope to do our best to continue this tradition of giving.”

Howard Milstein explained that as one of the most important bilateral relationships of the 21st century, a healthy and friendly US-China relationship requires strengthening exchanges between the two countries. “I feel that the best way to increase understanding and communications is for both sides to do something together. Medicine is a topic in common to the entire human race, and in addition, in the United States, my family has already successfully engaged in quite a few medical philanthropies. That’s why we decided to establish a US-China collaborative medical foundation.”

Beginning with grandfather Morris Milstein, philanthropy has been in the blood of the Milstein family, passed down from generation to generation. In US, the time Howard Milstein spends on philanthropy is no less than the time he spends on business activities. From New York Blood Center, Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine, American Skin Association, to Rockefeller University, Weill Cornell Hospital, Howard Milstein has given full support so that the medical scientists can tackle some of the most difficult challenges in medicine. As the Chairman New York Blood Center, he single handedly created the Milstein National Cord Blood Program, the world’s largest umbilical cord blood bank, which has given many seriously ill patients hopes for life.

“I’ve invested in many philanthropic projects and served as Chairman of many projects, but I don’t just provide the money, serve in name only.” For each project, Howard Milstein will engage in it wholeheartedly, he will follow a foundation’s organization, management and operations, so that its philanthropy can be more effective. “For example, when we were working on the umbilical cord blood bank, we ran into obstacles with the FDA. Even the “father of umbilical cord blood”, Dr. Pablo Rubinstein wasn’t able to use academic thinking to persuade them to accept this project, but after studying the materials of umbilical cord blood, I used simple language  to explain the importance of umbilical cord blood. In the end, the officials all nodded and agreed.”

In 2011, with the concept of the MMAAPF in mind, Howard Milstein’s team came to China and called upon the Health and Family Planning Commission (Ministry of Health then). “We obtained the recognition and support of Mr. Liu Qian, vice Chairman of the Commission, and successfully reached an agreement for the most outstanding medical institutions and the most promising scientists and doctors from China and the US to engage in collaboration in the six medical areas (geriatric medicine, skin disease and cutaneous biology, hematology, translational medicine, and reproductive medicine). Each year, the Foundation provides at least one fellowship and one project award in each of the above 5 medical areas. Professor Sean Leng, M.D. Ph.D of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is the President.”

The Foundation uses strict peer review to select the best applicants. First the Chinese medical system solicits research proposals from across the country, and then a review panel consisting of Chinese and American experts jointly evaluate these and select the most qualified applicants. “Any Chinese doctor or researcher, provided he has a high quality research plan and has passed the review by the Chinese and American panel of experts, can receive support from our Foundation.”

Currently there are roughly thirty Chinese medical institutions and twenty American medical institutions which have already started cooperating through the MMAAPF. These include the most famous medical institutions in China, such as the Peking union   Medical College Hospital, the West China Center of Medical Sciences, Sichuan University, and Huashan Hospital at Fudan University of Shanghai.

“Another important goal of ours is to bring the operating model of American philanthropy to China.” In his exchanges with Chinese partners, Howard Milstein discovered that many enterprises were also interested in philanthropy, but were not very clear about specific ways to do it. ““If you want to have success in philanthropy you must train yourself in private enterprise. I brought the concept of “venture philanthropy”, which is based on venture capital, into his philanthropic work. I’m very happy to be able to share the methods of American philanthropists to Chinese entrepreneurs for their reference, and I hope this can bring even more people into philanthropy.”

“The country most similar to the United States is China.”

The connection between China and the Milstein family in faraway New York began through a sweet tropical fruit – bananas.

In 1983, Howard Milstein’s father, Paul Milstein, the world’s “banana king” and President of United Brands, parent company of Chiquita bananas, arrived in Beijing on a private jet. At that time, the Chinese government was planning to remake Hainan Island into a world class production base for high quality bananas, and it urgently needed to invite an internationally experienced “banana expert” to provide guidance. This trip of Paul Milstein’s was precisely at the invitation of the Chinese government to “share knowledge about the banana business”.

Howard Milstein still remembers his father’s memories of the hospitality of the Chinese people: they sent a private jet to Hong Kong to meet him, and even took him to a meal at the German Embassy, which at that time offered the best Western food in Beijing…Paul was also glad to help China and shared without reservations his many years of experience in growing and selling bananas. Not long after his trip, many banana trees were planted in the southern part of Hainan Island.

Yet Howard Milstein’s OWN ties to China were even several years earlier than his father’s “banana trip”. In 1980, not long after receiving his MBA and JD in Law, Howard Milstein brought his wife Abby to travel in China, where they visited Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong for two weeks.

Reform and opening up had just begun in the early 1980s, and the aquiline nose and deep set eyes of Howard Milstein and the red hair of his wife Abby, attracted a great deal of attention on the streets of China.

“When we were walking along the Bund, people would surround us and try to speak English with us.” Howard Milstein still clearly remembers the scene during his first visit to China. “Some people spoke English fluently while others could only come up with single words, and the knowledge of still others of the West was limited to ‘Lincoln’. I was quite surprised and asked, how did you learn English? They answered that they had learned on their own by listening to radio broadcasts.”

The strongest impression that the China trip made on Howard Milstein was not the anticipated allure of the Orient. It was his surprising discovery that China and the United States were actually so similar. “People in the West always feel that Chinese people are very different from themselves, but in fact I think that the country in this world most similar to the United States is China. Warmth, diligence, humor, pragmatism and a focus on family, these are all common traits of the Chinese and American people.”

This trip allowed Howard Milstein to see China’s enormous prospects for development before others did. “At that time I said to my wife, one day we will come back here and our countries will become great friends.”

In order to understand and study China’s culture and history firsthand, Howard Milstein engaged a Chinese teacher and threw himself into five thousand years of China’s wisdom. The more he understood, the more he discovered that many Chinese concepts can also find corresponding ideas in Western culture. In literature, the concept of “heaven’s mandate” has commonalities with the ancient Greek tragedies of Sophocles; in history, the story of “Straw boats borrow arrows” has parallels to Odysseus’s Trojan horse; in working philosophy, Deng Xiaoping’s “white cat black cat theory” also fits perfectly with the tradition of the Milstein family as it grew.

With his deep understanding of Chinese culture, Howard Milstein is now returning to China, actively developing markets and his investments are bearing fruit everywhere. As the Chinese economy enters into its “new normal” today, Howard Milstein has seized the opportunity of China’s transition from an export economy to a consumption economy and through his partnership with the Jack Nicklaus company to build golf courses in China. Today in Beijing, Shanghai, Kungming and other cities, they have designed over fifty golf courses, of which 27 are open for play. Among these there is one in Hainan which is located in the southern part of Hainan where his father Paul Milstein was once consulted for banana growing. In addition, Howard Milstein is also involved in other investments, including a business that handles operations for insurance companies.

“In the future, we will also actively participate in businesses which are closely related to the new economic situation in China,” Howard Milstein said. He is very interested in the new startups and tech accelerators proliferating across China. “America can share many experiences in creating a new economy with China. In addition, we also hope to become an overseas partner for Chinese companies as they ‘go out’ of China, just as we were very lucky in China to find the Wanxiang Group to be our investment partner.”

The harder you work the luckier you get

The history of the Milstein family is a accurate depiction of the American dream.

In the early 20th century, countless dreamers brought their hopes for going from rags to riches to America. Howard Milstein’s grandfather was one of them.

Morris Milstein, a Jewish immigrant, could not even speak English well when he first arrived in the United States. He started at the bottom as a carpenter installing wood flooring, and after many years of hard work and savings, he finally formed a small company called Circle Flooring in 1919. This company’s business was sanding and installing flooring.

During that era when there were opportunities everywhere, the hard working Morris Milstein’s business got better and better. During the Second World War, the Milstein family also received orders from the US Military to install flooring in its new buildings throughout the United States. “My grandfather brought workers all over the country and they went to each worksite to oversee the work.” By the end of the war Circle Flooring’s business had already expanded all over the United States. Ultimately, the installation of the flooring, walls and ceilings in many famous iconic New York buildings, such as Rockefeller Center, the United Nations building, and Kennedy Airport was all done by the Milstein family.

“My father grew up listening to my grandfather talking about the flooring business. But he went one step further and thought, if the Milstein’s can do part of a building’s construction, why can’t they build the entire building? That was how Milstein Properties got started, and my father began the story of a great real estate family.”

So far 50,000 apartments, 20 million square feet of office space and over 10,000 hotel rooms in America have been built or bought by companies owned or controlled by the Milstein family. In 1974, the Milstein family entered the mining business, natural gas and petroleum, and they purchased United Brands, the parent company of Chiquita bananas.

After the efforts of two generations, by the time Howard Milstein was born, the Milstein family’s roots in New York were already very deep. The practical Milsteins never used the history of their struggles as a teaching instrument. Rather, they would work together with the next generation, and through words and deeds they would extend the family’s strength. From an early age, Howard Milstein would go to the office with his grandfather and listen to his grandfather describe how people lost their possessions during the Great Depression, how he worked hard and seized business opportunities, and how he looked for reliable partners to collaborate with….

“By the time I was in charge of the business, besides continuing to consolidate and develop the real estate business, I also expanded our family’s businesses into banking.” During the American banking crisis of 1986, Howard Milstein bought the 150 year old Emigrant Bank. Under his leadership, the Emigrant Bank and its holding company—The New York Private Bank and Trust—has become the largest privately owned bank in the United States. At the same time, he has added venture capital, computer technology and telecommunications into the composition of the Milstein assets.

Today, Michael Milstein, the fourth generation, is adding new energy into the family. He leads the number one tech accelerator in New York—the Grand Central Tech (GCT). “We created a space for startups next to Grand Central Station in New York, in the building which used to be headquarters of the Bank of America. That is one of the highest rent areas of Manhattan. The startups selected can work there for free for one year, and we do not take any equity from them.”

From installing floors to becoming titans of business—what is the secret of the Milstein family’s ability to prosper for four generations?

“Luck is very important,” Howard Milstein said with a smile. “But there is a saying that the harder you work the luckier you get. That’s why hard work is our first principle. In the course of our efforts, we create value for our customers so lady luck will naturally smile on us. Also, we have to dare to take risks and explore new opportunities on a foundation of understanding.”

Being part of a city

Someone once said that when you walk around New York, you might at any moment pass by a Milstein building.

As one of New York’s former three biggest real estate developers and the business owning the most square footage in the heart of Manhattan, the history of the Milstein family in real estate is also half the history of the growth of New York as a city. Over many years, the Milsteins gradually recognized the important role played by owners of the major buildings in the city in creating the environment of the city.

During the 1970s, the streets of Manhattan were not as peaceful as they are today. There were many gun fights, murders and thefts. In the minds of its people, the western side of Manhattan was much like the movie West Side Story–a dirty, unruly ghetto where there were occasional fights between gangs.

Yet Milstein Properties boldly decided to go to the west side, this dangerous “no-go zone!”

Between 1962 and 1978, Milstein Properties built three luxury buildings with 2,000 apartments on the west side of Manhattan. Such a large scale development was essentially a rebuilding of the entire area. When you add to this a unified property management, the whole of the west side of Manhattan began to be transformed.

“My father had two philosophies of real estate,” Howard Milstein explained. “One is to go to an area near good streets or neighborhoods, and two if you’re going to do it, do it on a large scale. Once the scale of a development is large enough, it is equivalent to creating a new community. The entire area’s appearance will change and the value of assets will naturally rise also.” As Howard Milstein sees it, real estate investments and urban developments are complimentary. High quality buildings not only benefit the developers, they also make the urban environment more beautiful.

As for the future of New York City, Howard Milstein is very optimistic. “I feel that no matter which direction the US economy takes, New York’s real estate market will remain hot for decades to come. As one of the world’s leading cities, New York is still the first choice of those who are looking for investment opportunities all over the world.”

But Howard Milstein was also frank in saying that its present outdated infrastructure is holding back New York’s development. Whether it be the aging subway system or the patchwork of repaired streets, these are incompatible with New York’s image as “an enticing city”. As a born and bred New Yorker, Howard Milstein also actively works to improve New York’s infrastructure. During his term as Chairman of the New York Thruway Commission from 2010-2014, Howard Milstein was responsible for the largest infrastructure project in the United States—the plan for the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge. This project is underway and expected to be more than two billion dollars under budget, and was called “a model for national infrastructure construction projects” by President Obama. As a result, Howard Milstein also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Regional Plan Association.”

“For the last decade and more, the investment into Chinese urban infrastructure could be called a role model for the entire world whereas the United States has neglected this,” Howard Milstein said with feeling. “We used to say that New York is the only city in the world that is truly a city, and that other cities were no more than a few blocks of New York. Yet now New York City looks like just a small part of some Chinese megacity. China has a lot of experiences in infrastructure that could be shared with the United States. Now, the US needs foreign investment for infrastructure construction and Chinese companies also want to seek opportunities abroad so there is a lot of room for cooperation between the two.”

While serving as Chairman of the New York Thruway Commission, Howard Milstein had explored the subject of high speed rail with the China Railroad Construction Company. “We even left room on the new Tappan Zee Bridge so that a high speed rail could be put there one day. In 2014, we also exchanged visits with the China City Construction Cooperation, and discussed many possibilities for cooperation. Although Chinese investments in American infrastructure could easily be subject to review by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States and would face obstacles from local protectionism, I believe that there still would be some way to allow China to participate in this.”

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