Birth Date: May 31, 1971Death Date: December 20, 2018
The Life of Wei Chen – An Inspiration to Many
All who knew Wei Chen, a renowned entrepreneur, aviator, author and visionary, felt his incredible love for life. He stirred a sense of inspiration in many.
Wei lost his earthly life on Thursday, December 20, 2018 at the age of 47. He and three other members of the Sunshine Enterprise, Inc. executive council were returning to Memphis from a business trip when their plane went down shortly after take-off in Atlanta, Georgia.
Wei is survived by his beloved wife of 20 years, Dr. Zhaohui Xu (Isabel); daughters Elisabeth, Stephanie and Sabrina; parents Xianjie Chen and Peiming Li; and younger brother Li Chen.
Wei and Isabel met at a University of Memphis new-student welcome party in 1996. They wed in Changsha, Hunan Province, China on May 20, 1998.
Wei was born and raised in Changsha and moved to the United States in 1996 at the age of 25 to attend graduate school. He earned his International MBA at the University of Memphis in August 1998.
At the young age of 27, against many odds and with no capital, Wei founded Sunshine Enterprise, Inc., a North American distributor of Chinese construction and industrial equipment. As CEO, he grew the company from a one-man operation to 400 employees in less than 10 years.
In 2013, Wei expanded the scope of his business to Los Angeles where he joined forces with an experienced team of bankers and real estate partners to form Sun Capital. As Chairman, Wei and his team were responsible for four significant development projects in L.A.
Wei gave much of his time and resources to organizations throughout Memphis, a community that he loved dearly. He sat on the Greater Memphis Chamber Board, University of Memphis Alumni Association National Alumni Executive Board, University of Memphis Fogelman College Dean’s Advisory Board and the University of Memphis Management Department Advisory Board.
Wei was an active member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) – a global network of chief executives in more than 130 countries. Wei was a leader among leaders, serving in many leadership positions coaching and helping CEOs around the world. He was most passionate about serving as the chairman of the Doing Business with China Network for YPO International. This international network won the best of the best award globally in YPO under Wei’s leadership. Wei’s passion was to build a bridge between YPO and China – bringing together members of YPO from the US and China and encouraging them to partner together. Scott Mordell, CEO of YPO recalls, “Wei was an inspiration for leaders across the world of YPO due to his can-do spirit and optimism.”
Wei loved giving back in a meaningful way, which is why he and Isabel established the Sunshine Scholars scholarship fund for the University of Memphis International MBA program. The fund provides top students with financial support during the 18-month program.
Wei was past board chair of the Memphis in May International Festival. During his time with Memphis in May, he contributed to the concepting of 901Fest – a celebration of the deep creative talent that Memphis has to offer.
Wei was actively involved in the Memphis Chinese community and was co-founder of the Greater Memphis United Chinese Association. Jiada Mo, former mechanical engineering professor at the University of Memphis and Wei’s co-founder of the Greater Memphis United Chinese Association, said, “Wei was a dear friend and pillar of support for our causes and initiatives. His work ethic, intelligence and compassion for those around him made him a great role model for the Memphis Chinese community.”
Wei was known for having boundless energy and courage. Just four years after earning his pilot’s license in 2007, Wei became the first Chinese citizen to fly a single-engine airplane around the world. This brave flight raised awareness and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a cause close to Wei’s heart. This historic flight also marked the first single-engine airplane landing at Beijing Capital International Airport and the first fly-around-the-world trip across China restricted airspace, which remarkably introduced private aviation to China. The experience led Wei to write “Around the World in 69 Days” as well as the Chinese version of the same book titled “80,000 Miles Above the Clouds.”
Wei was a founding partner of Sky Aviation, a Los Angeles based private jet aviation company. He was a consummate aviator, having piloted aircraft in 49 of the 50 United States, as well as all seven continents. As an ATP-rated pilot with well over 2,000 flight hours, Wei pursued additional ratings and certificates few outside the military had attained.
True to his loving, courageous spirit, an eyewitness who saw Wei’s troubled flight in Atlanta on December 20 recounted that Wei visibly did everything he could to avoid hitting the many homes in the area where the plane’s descent was taking place. Wei landed the plane in the only clearing available, successfully preventing further injury and damage in the heavily residential area.
Wei will perhaps be best remembered for his zeal and fervor – in business and in life. Many family members, friends and colleagues have heard him ask: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” This simple question, introduced to Wei by motivational speaker Dr. Robert Schuller, will remain symbolic of Wei’s passion for life’s experiences. Wei was also fond of sharing another favorite quote, by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”
The Chen family extends its sincerest thanks to the Millington-Memphis Airport for the care and concern they showed for the families during the rapidly unfolding tragedy on December 20. In addition to providing kindness and comfort, airport officials worked persistently with the Fulton County, Georgia, Medical Examiner’s Office to expedite the return of the departed.
Visitation will be held on Friday, January 4, 2019 from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm at Memorial Park Funeral Home & Cemetery at 5668 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, TN 38119. Memorial services will start at 10 am, on Saturday, January 5th, 2019 at the University of Memphis Rose Theater, 470 University, Memphis, TN 38111. Burial services for family only will immediately follow the memorial. The Chen family will greet friends and colleagues during the Friday visitation services.
While flowers are appreciated, a memorial fund benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has been established in Wei’s name. (Wei Chen Memorial Fund).
Arrangements have been entrusted to Memorial Park Funeral Home and Cemetery, 5668 Poplar Ave., Memphis, TN 38119 (901) 767-8930. “Celebrating Life… Behind the Stone Wall”.