Recently in Singapore at the invitation of The Marketplace, millionaire entrepreneur Paul Ji shared his personal story of how God transformed his life and business.
Contributed By Dawn Seow and Tan Pei Qi
Paul Ji was born into a Christian family in Brazil. His father found Jesus on his search for a doctor to heal his wife’s crippled leg. But the faith of his parents never got to young Ji. Disliking the structure of the church services, he would run outside to play during sermons, and would return only when the pastor started to pray for blessings upon the believers. The only thing that touched his heart at that time was the love he felt when the congregation was worshiping God.
Growing up, Ji was a brilliant but rebellious boy. “My mom was very strong-willed, forcing her ways on us children all the time. Once she bought me a pair of shoes that she thought I should be wearing. The shoes cost US$100, I sold them for US$200, returned the cost of the shoes to my mum and used the rest of the money to buy the pair that I wanted.” His nature caused him never to ask for things he wanted. But when he saw all his cousins receiving things while he didn’t, he grew jealous and promised himself that he would earn lots of money so that he would gain the respect of others.
At the age of 11, Ji started doing door-to-door sales for his father who had a factory in Brazil. He had his own shop at 16, his own company by 18 and by 21, he owned the largest mobile phone distribution company, overseeing over 40 shops and thousands of workers. By the time he was 24, Ji had successfully built the largest telecommunication company in Brazil. But even though he was earning US$1 million every day, he was feeling empty on the inside. To compensate for that emptiness, he would buy a different luxury car every week: Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes, Jaguar, among others. He would employ staff with master’s degrees and doctorate qualifications just so he could feel superior to those the world deemed smart. But all this could not satisfy what his heart longed for.
What ultimately changed his life was a church retreat. It was there that he met a beautiful girl who would become his wife. “The problem was, I already had a girlfriend at that time, a very controlling girlfriend. At that time, I felt that since I already started a relationship with her, I should stick to it. I didn’t like her, but I didn’t dare break-up with her,” Ji shared drawing laughter from the crowd. “The one whom I loved didn’t love me, but the one I didn’t love loved me.”
Ji then did the unthinkable. He asked God for an exchange: all his wealth for the girl he loved. “At that point I realized that money can’t buy true love. What was the use of all the money if I was not happy? I knew that if I lost all my money, I would be able to earn it all back.”
God heard his prayer. Ji finally won the heart of the girl. But in “exchange,” his telecommunication business shattered when Brazil’s Minister of Communications died of a heart attack suddenly. Systems Ji had expected to be put in place were abandoned, causing his products to fail spectacularly. Within six months, the banks came knocking on his door and took away all his wealth. At the lowest point of his life, Ji met a passerby who not only shared with him about a father’s love for his children but also brought him to church. Ji walked up to the altar, and having nowhere else to turn, he turned to God. He uttered four simple words: “God, I love you,” and all the arrogance and feelings of inferiority he had melted away from him, leaving behind only peace and humility.
“People will come to God when they find that their own ways don’t work anymore. When I’m in Singapore, I can’t use my China renminbi, I have no choice, and I need to convert them into Singapore dollars. When our own values don’t work anymore, we need to accept Jesus and convert to His values.”
Ji’s dramatic conversion happened 13 years ago. Today, Ji, 38, is one of China’s most successful entrepreneurs. Having moved his business to Zhejiang, China, he owns Attos, a 12-branch chain of boutiques that carry high-end label fashions. God has brought fulfillment to a vision he had of himself years ago: he will open the largest shopping mall in China next year.
But to Ji, business is no longer a means of gaining wealth. Having a passion and calling to reach out to the lost, he now uses his business to spread the love of God. The entrepreneur is also a celebrated branding expert today, who uses branding to express love through his businesses and to penetrate places that are not open to the gospel.
A very special guest invited by the Marketplace ministry to speak at a luncheon held at Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre on Sep. 23, Chinese entrepreneur Paul Ji astonished his audience with his dramatic life story and his God-given gift for using branding to spread the love of God.
Ji explained that while a brand gives a visual identity to a product, it is also a commitment to the customers that the product will not change.
“Branding is a concept that has to last forever. Therefore its motivation must come from love, the everlasting love of God,” he said. With this belief, Ji set up to include love in all his own branding efforts.
“All the strategies we have ensure that our brand is an expression of love. Our vision for the brand is for everyone to find joy in love, our mission is to allow everyone to come in contact with love, receive love, enjoy love, and share love, and the value of the brand is the love of the Cross, the willingness to give to others. It’s always more blessed to give than to receive,” he expounded.
On every box that holds Attos merchandise—Ji’s primary business—there is a mark of love. Some boxes bear the Bible verse in 1 Corinthians 13 on the meaning of love; others display the slogan “No fear in love.”
“You’re wondering: can we do this in China? Yes, we can. Everyone needs love and we want to use branding to express love from God Himself.”
Later the same evening, Ji spoke to the Chinese Church at City Harvest, together with church members under zone pastor Goh Yock Kiang. He shared his rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches tale, demonstrating the power of having God in one’s life.
His special way of engaging the crowd was so unexpected that he won the whole auditorium over. One attendee remarked, “He was comically realistic about his love for God and his wife that brought him to where he is now.”