Fight for more than money: Martial arts media tycoon's message to ST forum

One Championship founder Chatri Sityodtong speaking at the Cutting Edge forum on July 25, 2019. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - "All of us are put on this earth to do more than make money," says Mr Chatri Sityodtong, founder of One Championship, Asia's largest sports media company. "I believe in one mission: to give back to the world more than we've received."

The 48-year-old self-made entrepreneur shared lessons from his rags-to-riches journey at an interactive public forum on Thursday (July 25).

Mr Chatri grew up in poverty in Thailand before working his way up to a Harvard education, and a career which took him to Silicon Valley and Wall Street before he founded his mixed martial arts media company which has seen him described as one of Asia's next-generation tycoons by Forbes.

Thursday's forum, held at the Sofitel Singapore City Centre hotel, was the third in a four-part series organised by The Straits Times and Business Times, and sponsored by developer GuocoLand.

Titled Cutting Edge, the series spotlights renowned global leaders and includes an open question-and-answer session moderated by ST associate editor Vikram Khanna.

About 200 people attended the ticketed event, including participants from local businesses, start-ups and even students.

Mr Chatri's story began with hardship.

After the Asian financial crisis in 1997, Mr Chatri's father abandoned his family in Thailand. His mother was left to support Mr Chatri and his younger brother.

"I thought if I made a lot of money, I could stop my mum from crying," he recounted. "So I vowed that one day I would make so much money our bellies would always be full."

Despite the family struggling to get by on one meal a day, his mother dreamed that eventually her son would study at Harvard University in the United States.

"My mum kept telling me since I was young: One day, you're going to grow up, and you're going to help the world," he said. "I used to think it was motherly gibberish."

After taking on part-time jobs, living frugally, taking out bank loans and receiving help from friends, graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School.

He then moved to Silicon Valley, setting up his own successful software company NextDoor Networks.

Later, he joined Wall Street and founded a hedge fund, Izara Capital Management.

But after fulfilling his dreams of becoming a millionaire, he realised something was missing. Although he had succeeded in filling his family's bellies, his heart felt "so empty".

"I started thinking about my life," he told the audience. "I make more money next year. I make more money the following year, store up more material things... And it just made no sense to me. There was no higher purpose to my life."

After a bout of soul-searching and studying the market, Mr Chatri decided to channel his childhood love of martial arts and the values they embody to found One Championship. He envisioned it being "a beacon of positive energy and hope for the world" that stands for "Asian values" and appeals to an Asian audience.

"The home of martial arts is in Asia - they're Asia's cultural treasures," he said.

The businessman called on the audience not to be blinded by the pursuit of money, but instead to have the courage to pursue their dreams and hold on to compassion.

"The world makes it easy for you not to chase your dreams," he said. "So my challenge to everyone here is to do some deep reflection, listen to the small voice in you, and be a hero to your community, your company, and the world."

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