Chen Shu-hao – or “Hamlet” as he’s known on his Chinese flights – is the latest in a long line of entrepreneurial air explorers.
For the past 30 years, Mr Chen has been leading a parallel life as a secretive and prolific freight entrepreneur based in New York’s Chinatown, even operating his operations under the name “Ghost Airlines”.
With the help of his crew, Mr Chen operates little more than a cargo jumbo jet with a bare-bones interior which flies a fleet of “Gramercy Classics” aircraft.
The cargo company, based in the same building as the offices of Sean Penn and hedge fund manager John Paulson, can match any of its competitors with his credit.
But it’s not the type of experience most passengers crave.
Known among entrepreneurs as the Jungle King of commerce in New York’s Chinatown, Mr Chen is famous for taking his cargo – or at least a chunk of it – on his nightly hajj as “freedom of movement.”
But his real name is Chen Shu-hao, and he’s not even Chen Shu-hao who became Taiwan’s newest airline boss.
Not a Taiwanese citizen, Mr Chen is actually a self-made billionaire from Hong Kong. In fact, he has been called Hong Kong’s “Chinese Warren Buffett.”
Since making his fortune with US import store, Quality East, Mr Chen has been buying up parts of the United States and then setting up businesses with the help of tax havens.
After launching his travel company in November 2007, he recently became a Taiwanese citizen and Taiwan’s 7th richest person with a net worth of US$2.7 billion, according to Forbes.
To demonstrate why he doesn’t want to talk about his business plans, Mr Chen faces off against the interviewer with only a wisp of hair and a slightly wonky smile.
“This would be a conflict of interest of a commercial nature. I can’t make any business decisions and on the other hand you want to uncover my business plan. I can’t do both,” he explains, adding, “This is like hamlet, guys.”
This frankness and capriciousness seems perfect for building the ultimate “grapevine” shuttle.
When asked who would be chairman of the carrier should it become a public company, Mr Chen quips with a laugh, “I don’t know. Hopefully I can be the main boss for the United States.”
© East2west News
But Mr Chen’s cargo business in the US says otherwise. His main competitor is Levi Strauss, when not being hounded by reporters.
Mr Chen wants to stay clear of publicity and put his head down in the railway and plane sectors.
The only thing he reveals about the fares, which are sometimes cheaper than the regular economy class ticket, is that he wishes he could start selling premium economy, as all his competitors in China do.
“I call it ultra-premium economy, ultra-choice. You can actually ask somebody in your life, ‘Have you ever flown on the cargo route? Try it. You’ll love it. It’s better than anything.”
© East2west News
Mr Chen’s credentials also include some serious money behind him.
After the market crash of 2008, his brand new cargo hangar in the US was leased out to the banks for a price of a few million dollars.
That catapulted him to the front of the pack of entrepreneurs such as the former Deutsche Bank chief Richard Fuld, the founder of The Carlyle Group, that pulled their shares out of US corporations during the financial meltdown.
The economy has been turning around ever since, although Mr Chen has remained tight-lipped about how well his companies are doing.