"What we do in our lifetime defines who we are. It is truly a blessing to give."
Walter Wang views both his philanthropic and business endeavors through the words of the Taoist master, Lao Tzu: “Best to be like water. Water brings good to all things without contending.” It’s a fitting principle since Mr. Wang is the president and CEO of JM Eagle, the world’s largest manufacturer of plastic and PVC pipe. Together with his wife, Shirley, Mr. Wang has funded a diverse array of projects across three continents through both their family foundation as well as through their companies.
In 2005, JM Eagle supplied plastic pipe and other materials to transport drinking water from a mountain spring
to a community of 5,000 people in Honduras and supported a project to develop water delivery and sanitation systems for needy communities in Northern Thailand. The company also has provided 350 miles of pipe in eight African countries, supplying 125,000 people with water.
“I believe that the way you do philanthropy should be exactly like the way water flows—‘everything can be touched,’” Mr. Wang says. “A corporate mission that includes giving back to society will inspire and motivate the staff, whose goal will no longer be just to make money.”
Mr. Wang and Mrs. Wang have supported more than 15 philanthropic initiatives, ranging from education to poverty reduction in Africa, from assistance for domestic violence victims to AIDS research and advocacy in China. In taking an active role in building a better Los Angeles, the Wangs were lead supporters of the Drug Enforcement Agency Foundation and helped bring the DEA Museum to the city to educate the public on some of the nation’s worst problems: illegal drugs and trafficking. The Wangs also established an endowed chair at the Cedar Sinai Medical Center for Pediatric Surgery to fund cutting-edge research in pediatric surgery and to assist underprivileged children in need of surgery.
Shirley Wang, founder and CEO of Plastpro, Inc., a leading fiberglass-door manufacturer, is a highly regarded philanthropic leader in education. Mrs. Wang has served on the board of the Harvard Westlake School in Los Angeles and is now the first Asian American woman to lead The UCLA Foundation. Having served on the board since 2008, Mrs. Wang is a member of the executive committee for the Centennial Campaign for UCLA. A leading UCLA Foundation board priority is to raise money for student scholarships and fellowships, and the Wangs donated USD 1 million (RMB 6.1 million) to establish an endowment to support students from middle-income families and students studying abroad.
The Wangs’ Christian faith, Chinese values, and belief in education drive their philanthropy. Ten years ago, Mr. Wang was diagnosed with end-stage cancer. He credits his recovery to his Christian faith as well as the love and commitment of his wife. The experience taught Mr. Wang that “life is short. And you could come and go at any moment.” The cancer experience motivated the Wangs to reevaluate their charitable giving. “Life is very fragile but also extremely precious,” Mr. Wang says. “What we do in our lifetime defines who we are. It is truly a blessing to give.”
Mr. Wang’s family instilled in him the belief that “doing business was not just about making money; what’s more important is to give back to the community.” He recalls stories of his grandfather in Taiwan during the economically challenging times of the 1920s and ’30s. Although poor, his grandfather assisted others who were in greater need, often inviting four or five indigent people to his house for a bath, a change of clothes, and food. “Because he had no money, he would help them in these ways,” Mr. Wang says. “What one generation does will bless the next one; my grandfather’s love blessed my father.”
Mr. Wang also draws from the Chinese expression that “the strong should help the weak and the rich should help the poor... The biggest achievement is one that can benefit others,” he says.
The Wangs emphasize that education is vital to a vibrant, successful society. Supporting education is an investment. “Education provides the most social mobility for a person,” says Mrs. Wang. “The more educated the people are, the better our country is.” The Wang family actively contributes to educational institutions that are close to their hearts—from the Harvard Westlake School to UCLA, which is Mrs. Wang’s alma mater.
BEING CHINESE AMERICAN
The Wangs’ support for the Asian American community has included helping to establish the nation’s first program and endowed academic chair in U S –China relations and Chinese American Studies at UCLA. As part of the program, the U S –China Media and Communications Resource program educates the American public and policy makers about U.S.–China relations and Chinese Americans through a unique website and media tool that serves as a clearinghouse of experts on Chinese American issues.
“Ineffective communication is one of the biggest barriers to achieving greater understanding and appreciation of U S –China relations, and mass media is a vital vehicle for changing perceptions,” Mrs. Wang said when the gift was announced. “By educating the public about the historical significance of these cultures and the important economic, social, and political changes they have helped to create, we can enhance cross-cultural communication and achieve deeper understanding.”
JM Eagle’s partnership with the nonprofit Earth Institute at Columbia University highlights the extent of Mr. Wang’s philanthropic efforts as well as his expertise and knowledge in water resource management. In 2009, JM Eagle helped set up new and innovative water systems in The Earth Institute’s Millennium Villages Project (MVP). Founded by economist Jeffrey Sachs, the MVP is a demonstration project that aims to address the root causes of extreme poverty through a holistic, community-led approach to sustainable development. In total, Mr. Wang donated nearly 400 miles of pipe to build the infrastructure needed to get water to some of the poorest villages in Africa; he also provided funds to help engineer and design the pipeline. Mr. Wang measures success in the short term, but in the long term he believes that “it’s better to teach people to fish than to give them fish.”
In a speech at Peking University in 2015, Mr. Wang gave this advice to students: “If you are determined to do philanthropy, you’ll always know what you need to do. Some philanthropists may donate a large sum of money, but a responsible entrepreneur knows how to do philanthropy in a way that yields the highest return. If you are committed to philanthropy and you take it step by step, you’ll gradually find which is the best way.”
The Wangs’ philanthropy is rooted in projects, issues, and concerns that resonate with the family’s values. According to Mrs. Wang, one of their guiding principles of giving is “to give from the heart. Ultimately, success is only as good as the good it creates.”