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Monday, 6 February 2012

Make money, passion or else ...?

It’s not just about pay cheque but also passion


AMONG the many stories that have emerged in the global excitement over the Facebook initial public offering (IPO), I find the one about David Choe to be most interesting.
Choe grew up in a tough neighbourhood in Los Angeles. His crime-ridden childhood and search for acceptance in the art community included a life-changing experience in a Tokyo prison.

Today, the 35-year-old Korean-American, who used to paint graffiti on the streets, is acknowledged as a world-class muralist and graffiti artist.

His “dirty style” figure paintings, including one of President Barack Obama, have made him an icon.

Now comes the interesting part.

In 2005, Choe was commissioned to paint the walls of the first office of Facebook in Palo Alto, California. Two years later, he was asked to do the same for the new headquarters.

He was given the option to be paid either in cash or with Facebook shares.

The New York Times quoted Choe as saying that although he felt the very idea of Facebook seemed “ridiculous and pointless” at the time, he chose the stock.

His shares are expected to be worth more than US$200mil once Facebook stock trades publicly later this year.

Don’t we just love stories like this?

Here is a man who is fully passionate about what he does, and who seems to be content with being recognised more for his talent than the monetary returns of his works. And good fortune smiles upon him and he is suddenly propelled into the ranks of the super-rich.

What would you do if you were in such a position?

I am not talking about ill-gotten gains or fantastic corporate manoeuvres but about how we, as individuals, can be so passionate about our work that even the world will sit up and take notice.

We work for the sheer joy of giving our best, without even thinking of monetary possibilities.

For example, if one were to write a book, he must write like an award-winning author. If the book also happens to make it to the New York Times Bestsellers List and he gets inundated with multi-million ringgit contracts, that will be a bonus, not his intent.

The late Tan Sri Dr Noordin Sopiee, who was my boss at one time, used to say that while it may appear unfair that some countries are blessed with valuable resources below their feet (like gold, oil and gas), God is very fair because there is always equal distribution of what we have between our ears (meaning our brains).

Creativity cannot be stifled by geographic boundaries. A dear friend, who worked on the animation work for hit movies like Iron Man and Mission Impossible 4 for an American company based in Singapore, has just moved to another company based in Sydney.

His talent is recognised and is made the more meaningful because he has a hearing disability which is not discriminated against by his employers.

He is passionate about what he does and his changing jobs is always about exploring his full potential, not about the pay cheque.

Going by this argument, I wonder if there are graffiti artists in the streets of Kuala Lumpur who have that level of passion to propel them to international stardom, like David Choe.

Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin is impressed that Egyptian teenager Nour El Sherbini has a burning ambition to be the next Nicol David and is working hard to be the next long-term queen of squash. He wonders why no Malaysian squash player has publicly expressed such a desire.

Facing facts: smart move makes artist a multimillionaire

Nick Bilton, Evelyn Rusli
From left: Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz and Sean Parker at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California. Stocking up ... from left, co-founders of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz with Sean Parker and the murals. Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO: The graffiti artist who took Facebook stock instead of cash for painting the walls of the social network's first headquarters made a smart move. The shares owned by the artist, David Choe, are expected to be worth more than $US200 million ($187 million) when Facebook stock trades publicly this year.

The social network company announced a $5 billion public offering this week, which is expected to value the company at up to $US100 billion.

The Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 27, has 533.8 million shares, worth $US28.3 billion based on a company valuation of $US100 billion, or $US53 a share. He has undisputed control of the company - owning 28.4 per cent of the company outright and controlling 57 per cent of the voting rights.

Windfall ... David Choe. Windfall ... David Choe.

Facebook's first outside investor, Peter Thiel, the billionaire contrarian, led a $US500,000 investment in Facebook in late 2004. He has 44.7 million shares that could be worth more than $US2 billion. Elevation Partners, the venture capital firm of Bono, the U2 frontman, paid $US120 million for a chunk of Facebook's shares in 2010.

Choe's payout could provide more money from his paintings than Sotheby's attracted for its record-breaking $US200.7 million auction in 2008 for work by the artist Damien Hirst.

In 2005, Choe was invited to paint murals on the walls of Facebook's first offices in Palo Alto, California, by Sean Parker, then Facebook's president. As pay, Mr Parker offered Choe a choice between cash in the ''thousands of dollars,'' according to several people who know Choe, or stock then worth about the same amount. Choe, who has said that at the time that he thought the idea of Facebook was ''ridiculous and pointless'', nevertheless chose the stock.

Many ''advisers'' to the company at that time, which is how Choe would have been classified, would have received about 0.1 per cent to 0.25 per cent of the company, a former Facebook employee said. That may sound like a paltry amount, but a stake that size is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, based on a market value of $US100 billion valuing Choe's payment at about $US200 million.

Choe is now a very successful artist with gallery shows and pieces exhibited in museums. His page on Facebook shows the life of a modern-day renegade artist. Choe declined requests to be interviewed; he said he wanted to maintain his privacy. But he has published an obscenity-strewn book of his art, David Choe, which includes images of the multimillion-dollar murals at Facebook.

He also offers life advice in his book: ''Always double down on 11. Always.''
Maybe the better advice is to take stock, not cash, from Harvard dropouts in Silicon Valley.

The New York Times

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