Preparation for life’s challenges

Peter Young, BSChE '80, outside the engineering school.
Peter Young, BSChE ’80, started China’s first paper-processing service agency.

Now, Peter Young, BSChE ’80, is a success story. He’s the chief executive officer of Chemcentral Group, Hong Kong, the first paper and paper-processing service agency in China, which also has ventures in real estate, consumer goods and ecotourism.

But back in 1983 when Young founded the company, it wasn’t clear that he’d made the right move. “At that stage, China was starting to open up for international business, and I was hoping to capitalize on the situation,” Young remembers. But “I found out that China was short on foreign exchange, meaning they were extremely poor and couldn’t buy the products we offered.”

His business partner dropped out, but Young stayed steadfast. He calls those early years “tedious” and “extremely difficult.”

When asked why he kept going, Young says, “I felt I had a job to do.” He attributes his perseverance, in part, to Washington University.

“WashU gave me a very good education. It gave me a very good network of alumni. And it also gave me some of the stamina that allowed me to deal with many of the difficult issues I encountered,” Young says.

Young was born in Hong Kong and was educated there and in Switzerland before coming to the U.S. for a portion of his high school education. In 1976, he decided to attend Washington University after seeing the campus and meeting H. Boulter Kelsey, then an assistant dean in the School of Engineering & Applied Science. Kelsey showed Young that the university provided hands-on support and prepared students for academic and other challenges.

Though he graduated 37 years ago, Young still remembers Kelsey and most of his professors by name. The  school has changed — Young recalls how students used to use punched cards to run computer programs  on huge machines in Cupples II — but the school’s hands-on approach has not.

After college, Young worked for Honeywell Aerospace, and three years later, he started Chemcentral Group, Hong Kong.

Though it was difficult for the first 15 years, eventually, China’s economy started to grow and so did Young’s company.

“[China] is like a car that started in first gear, and is now in third gear,” Young says.

Around that time, Young began to think about giving back to the university. Over the years, he and his wife, Lin, have supported scholarships, the Biomedical Engineering International Study Abroad Program, and the Frank and Grace Yin Fund for Biomedical Engineering.

This year, the couple made a five-year commitment of $500,000, and in recognition of the generosity, the university named the archway at Preston M. Green Hall the Young Archway. Young says the gift is in honor of his parents Tsun Chi Frank Young and Kwok Chu Judy Ju.

But he hopes it helps future generations.

“It is now 41 years since I started at WashU. We went from having a stack of punched cards to do a couple of lines of work to now having a smart phone that is more powerful than a room of punched cards.

“I have done well, thanks to Washington University,” he says. “I want to help young people today so that 41 years from now, they will be able to  say the same thing.”

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