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Richard Elman, Founder and CEO, Noble Group

  • Story Highlights
  • Richard Elman is the founder and CEO of the Noble Group
  • He founded the company 20 years ago, with $100,000 of his own money
  • Richard left school at 15, and has worked his way to business success
  • Next Article in World Business »
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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Noble is one of the best companies in the world at managing the sourcing, processing and transportation of raw materials, whether they are coal or food grains.

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Richard Elman, the founder and CEO of the Noble Group

It has been a long journey for its founder, Richard Elman, who began the company 20 years ago, he says, simply to make a living.

From $100,000 of his own money, he has grown Noble Group into a $15 billion supply chain management business with offices in over 40 countries.

Not bad for a man, who at the tender age of 15, decided to drop out of school and start his career working in a scrapmetal yard.

CNN's Andrew Stevens caught up with Elman at his Hong Kong headquarters, and began by asking why he chose work over the classroom.

Elman: Total failure in school -- I didn't have a choice. You have to be pragmatic. When you fail all your O levels what else do you do with your life? I actually didn't have a clue what to do with my life. And my parents had found this job for me and I took to it naturally, I suppose. And I have not looked back since.

Stevens: Your parents found you the job; was there an element of you which had to fight against disappointment perhaps, your father obviously a high achiever?

Elman: Oh, my father -- it took me many years to build a level stage with my father. He was hugely disappointed. He was highly intellectual. But ultimately I think he recognized, in the latter part of his life, suddenly I had some success and I think, actually, he was quite proud.

Stevens: Was it a difficult relationship, in the early days after you left school, with your father?

Elman: Well, he was just disappointed, you know. He taught me something which is probably true and I try to pass it to my kids. Whatever happens in life, you cannot take away education. So if you are trained as a barrister or a lawyer, you can go anywhere in the world and make a living. If you only have physical possessions, they can be taken away from you depending on war or whatever may happen.

Stevens: We have had the Asian economic crisis, we have had a lot of downs, what lessons have you taken away from all that, those lessons of adversity?

Elman: I think you just have got to look forward. You cannot look back. We have had the, probably the first big crisis that we had was the Tiananmen Square incident and that was a huge problem for us because I think 90 percent of our business was in China and one day we were closed down. Then we had the 1997 crisis and we had just listed in Singapore. And suddenly the stock had gone from 80 cents, or whatever it was down to 10 cents.

Stevens: Let's just come back to Tiananmen Square for a moment. 90 percent of your business is in China, there is a crisis there. How did you react?

Elman: Honestly? I called some people to the office on a Monday morning, I put out on a spread sheet our exposure in China. I took one look at it, I lifted all of the papers off my desk, threw them in the air and said "This crisis is too big. Let's get on with the business." It was as simple as that.

Stevens: Nothing you could do.

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Elman: I didn't know how to control it. It was beyond me, certainly beyond me. But we carried on and we had some requests from certain people to continue shipping and certain people said could we assist them and pay some debt that they had to pay because the banks had been closed at the time and we did it.

And that, I think, was fundamental to the future of the company, because we helped out people when they needed help, and people have respected that and helped us out as well, when we have needed help. So it was a good experience actually, at the end of the day. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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