Herbal Emperor

Sunrider founder Tei-Fu Chen turned a deep belief in himself into the center of a global health products empire.

he secret ingredient Tei-Fu Chen used to build his global health products empire? His personal charisma. Luckily he had it in abundance because by the time Chen founded Sunrider International in the basement of a Salt Lake City apartment, he had been reduced to little else.

     Tei-Fu Chen was born in 1948 in southern Taiwan. He immigrated to the United States in 1974 with his new bride Oi Lin with dreams of an entirely conventional kind of success. They planned to study hard, get into medical schools, become doctors and live in a nice home in the suburbs. Four years later Tei-Fu Chen found himself with a 4-year-old daughter, a wife who was pregnant again, stacks of med school rejections and only seven dollars and fifty cents in his pockets — not even enough to rent an apartment.

     "The longer I stayed in the United States," Tei-Fu Chen recalls of what was easily the nadir of his adult life, "it seemed the American dream became farther and farther away from me."

     For the moment the Chen family's only option was to live out of their battered car. In desperation Tei-Fu took a series of odd jobs to get his family off the street. With no other recourse Chen renewed his early acquaintence with the traditional herbal remedies used by Taiwanese of humble means, using his knowledge to find work as a researcher for Nature's Way and Nature's Sunshine. Within four years Tei-Fu was ready to start his own company. Unlike herbal companies that professed to sell remedies for diseases, he wanted to create supplements to keep the body healthy.

     While wife Oi Lin attended medical school, Tei-Fu began doing precisely the kinds of traditional things from which he had hoped to distance himself by becoming a medical doctor — boiling herbal extracts in the basement of their apartment. To sell his supplements, Tei-Fu drew on his quiet but unmistakeable ability to instill deep belief in others to build up the kind of multi-level direct marketing scheme used by his former employers.

     The Chens faced some severe tests along the way. Exploiting western suspicions of oriental health traditions, numerous lawsuits were filed claiming injury from Sunrider herbal supplements. Sunrider also became the target of scandal pieces by TV networks and newspapers. Tei-Fu Chen's own sister and father filed suits claiming a share of the fast-growing company. In the 1990s Uncle Sam sued for taxes owed on imports and exports of herbal products, casting yet another dark shadow on the Chens. That suit was ultimately settled for tens of millions.

     The Chens survived the tribulations thanks to the most valuable of their traditional remedies — family closeness. They and their four children became a support network for one another. By 2007 Sunrider International had grown into one of the world's most profitable herbal foods and skincare products company, with several million user-distributors in 40 countries and sales of over a billion dollars a year. Its business headquarters had moved into a sparkling $45 million complex in Carson, California and the Chens themselves livd in a spectacular mansion they could never have afforded had they realized their original dream of becoming doctors. In addition to manufacturing plants in 5 nations, in 2006 Sunrider acquired two luxury hotels in Beijing and one in Taipei.

Tei-Fu and Oi Lin Chen live in Torrance, California and work at Sunrider headquarters in nearby Carson.

“ The longer I stayed in the United States, it seemed the American dream became farther and farther away from me. ”

The lobby of one of the 3 luxury Sunworld hotels owned by Sunrider.


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