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September 22, 2017

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'Turnaround King' sets sights on TransAsia

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- After successfully orchestrating a series of remarkable corporate turnarounds, Fenno Chang has gained a reputation for his fearless attitude when it comes to business.

"Without enough money or connections, I could only start from digging for gold in heaps of garbage — investment projects most people aren't interested in. Garbage may be garbage, but what I have found is that some of it is worth transforming and reshaping into something valuable."

Dubbed "Chang the Daredevil" after his exploits in the real estate market, the Far Eastern Air Transport (FAT) chairman is living up to his moniker with his recent decision to take over the scandal-hit TransAsia Airways. Many had thought the troubled Taiwan-based carrier was beyond salvation, but Chang seems to think otherwise.

"I come from an engineering background, so I am not intimidated when it comes to machinery, to solving problems," remarked Chang, who graduated with a chemical engineering degree from National Tsing Hua University.

He said once banks finish processing the necessary documents, the firm plans to file an application to restructure TransAsia next month, after which it expects to receive approval within two to three months.

"We will launch operations under a new title, Far Eastern United Air, one week after we receive the go-ahead," Chang said.

Self-Made Entrepreneur

Chang, a self-made man who made his initial fortune in real estate, entered the air transport industry with his takeover of FAT in 2008.

In a situation reminiscent to the recent dissolution of TransAsia, FAT abruptly announced its bankruptcy and stopped all operations in May 2008. Chang bought the company and officially relaunched operations in 2011. Last October, the Taipei District Court ruled the firm had successfully emerged from bankruptcy.

"This is my habit: I have to succeed in doing whatever I choose to do. That is why I go all in," said Chang. "At the time, I thought Far Eastern Air still had a strong market position because of the firm's long history and expertise with maintenance, and there was a possibility that more flight routes would open over the Taiwan Strait."

FAT turned a profit in 2013, and its earnings per share (EPS) increased to US$2.8 in 2015. Up until the third quarter this year, the airline's revenue was NT$2.41 billion, with net profits of around NT$300 million and an EPS of US$1.04.

"Our EPS has been the highest in the air transport industry for three years in a row," Chang said.

He highlighted operational efficiency as the key to the successful turnaround. "We have the greatest efficiency, it is a core management principle of ours."

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