A Family Tradition of Philanthropy
As Charles C. Y. Chen (MBA ’91), Chairman of Eyon Holding Group and a member of Stern's Executive Board, described it, his $20 million gift to NYU Stern to create the Chao-Hon Chen Institute for Global Real Estate Finance was less a bolt from the blue than a serendipitous confluence of professional interest, generational friendship, and above all, a deep-seated family tradition of philanthropy.
Chen has family records dating back to the 18th century that describe a 10-generation line comprising mostly farmers and laborers. His grandfather, a laborer without formal education, began working unloading tools and building materials from small river boats and doing farm work. Chen’s father initiated the family’s entrance into the world of higher education, earning a master’s degree and credits toward a PhD; the new Institute is named for him. “In Taiwan, and in my family, we value our heritage very heavily,” Chen said.
Although Chen’s attendance at NYU Stern was a stroke of either fate or luck—his younger brother failed to mail his other business school applications on time, he remembered with a chuckle—his loyalty and service to the School are steadfast.
He recently created the Charles C. Y. Chen Fellowship to offer scholarship support for graduate students because, as a university instructor in Taiwan at the time, he felt that gaining a global perspective was so important to their development. He currently serves on the Stern Executive Board and is also part of the School's distinguished Advisory Board of C-suite leaders who are guiding the Chao-Hon Chen Institute.
After Chen funded his scholarship program, he recalled, “I liked the direction the School was heading—more international, and very practical. I thought I wanted to do something more.” The vision for the new Chao-Hon Chen Institute for Global Real Estate Finance emerged from a discussion Chen had with family friend and Chair of the Stern board Andre J.L. Koo (MBA ’94). At the time, Chen was involved in a complicated real estate development in Taiwan, so real estate was top of mind. On a visit to New York he met with Finance Professor and now Chao-Hon Chen Institute Director Sam Chandan, and they hit it off. He then introduced Chandan to his nephew, who was steering his firm’s Taiwan real estate project, and the two found they had common experiences. “The idea for the Institute just came together very naturally,” Chen said. The Institute encompasses the Center for Real Estate Finance plus houses three new, interdisciplinary initiatives in areas that are each fundamentally disrupting real estate on a global scale, as well as offers scholarships and research grants.
Raghu Sundaram, Dean, NYU Stern, said, “Charles’ gift demonstrates the potential impact that is possible on a global scale through a multidisciplinary institute such as this one. We are deeply indebted to Charles for establishing a model of excellence we hope to replicate in other important areas here at the School.”
Real estate development is just one of many of Chen’s business interests. As chairman of Eyon Holding Group—a private equity firm with interests in airlines, insurance, photonics, paper manufacturing, consulting, and container shipping, as well as urbanization—he has served on the boards of more than a dozen companies as well as major philanthropic initiatives.
Chen's favorite memory of his student days at Stern revolves around a classic New York experience: getting stuck on the subway. Packed in along with everyone else, Chen recognized then-Dean Richard R. West standing next to him. He was initially hesitant to strike up a conversation, he recalled, because in his culture such top administrators are considered almost unapproachable by students. But he mustered his courage and they spoke for about 10 minutes. “I started to realize that the Dean is really just an ordinary person, and we had a very nice chat. It was really the best experience!”
Chen added that what he most appreciated about Stern when he was a student—and still values—is its diversity, not just among the student body but also the different perspectives that his Executive Board colleagues bring.
Despite his busy professional agenda, Chen remains a dedicated amateur athlete who programs his sports activities far in advance, but adjusts the schedule as work and weather demand. He plays badminton twice a week, takes annual ski trips, cycles, and golfs. He is also a trained vocalist who at one time considered singing opera but prefers to sing with classical orchestras or ensembles, sometimes for friends, on other occasions for charity, and he is a board member of the New York Philharmonic. He is also a discerning collector of art, an appreciation for which he inherited from his grandmother, who painted in the Japanese style. His private collection ranges from Picasso to Basquiat.
Did You Know?
— Originally from southeastern China, Chen's forebears were farmers and laborers; his father was the first to go to university.
— An avid athlete, Chen plays competitive badminton, cycles, and skis.
— A trained vocalist, Chen has performed before thousands.