Cutting Edge forum

Don't be blinded by pursuit of money: MMA media tycoon

One Championship founder's message: Pursue dreams and retain compassion

"All of us are put on this earth to do more than make money," said Mr Chatri Sityodtong, founder of One Championship, Asia's largest sports media company.

"I believe in one mission: to give back to the world more than we've received."

The 48-year-old self-made entrepreneur shared lessons from his rags-to-riches journey at an interactive public forum yesterday.

Mr Chatri grew up in poverty in Thailand before working his way up to a Harvard education in the United States, and a career that took him to Silicon Valley and Wall Street.

He later founded his mixed martial arts media company, which has seen him described as one of Asia's next-generation tycoons by Forbes.

The forum, held at the Sofitel Singapore City Centre hotel, was the third in a four-part series organised by The Straits Times and The Business Times, and sponsored by developer GuocoLand.

Titled Cutting Edge, the series spotlights renowned global leaders and included a question-and-answer session moderated by ST associate editor Vikram Khanna.

About 200 people attended the ticketed event, including participants from local businesses, start-ups and even students.

Mr Chatri's story began with hardship. After the Asian financial crisis in 1997, Mr Chatri's father abandoned his family in Thailand. His mother was left to support Mr Chatri and his younger brother.

"I thought if I made a lot of money, I could stop my mum from crying," he recounted. "So I vowed that one day, I would make so much money our bellies would always be full."

  • BIO BOX

  • NAME: Chatri Sityodtong

    AGE: 48

    OCCUPATION: Entrepreneur and martial artist. Founder and chief executive of One Championship, a mixed martial arts media company based in Singapore.

    Son of a Thai father and Japanese mother, Mr Chatri grew up in a well-to-do family in Bangkok, where he lived until he was 18 years old.

    He began training in muay thai with master Yodtong Senanan in Pattaya's Sityodtong Camp at 13. The sport developed in him a "warrior spirit" that enabled him to push through his darkest times, he said. He has been involved in martial arts for more than 35 years.

    The millionaire sought to do more with his wealth than spend it on material goods. In 2008, he founded Evolve MMA, a chain of martial arts academies in Asia, and in 2011, he founded One Championship.

    "I was nine years old when I first walked into a muay thai stadium. I remember how electrifying it was, how graceful and beautiful the athletes were. I fell in love. And I've never looked back."

Despite the family struggling to get by on one meal a day, his mother dreamed that eventually her son would study at Harvard.

"My mum kept telling me since I was young: One day, you're going to grow up, and you're going to help the world," he said. "I used to think it was motherly gibberish."

After taking on part-time jobs, living frugally, taking up bank loans and receiving help from friends, he was accepted into Harvard Business School.

Graduating with an MBA, he then moved to Silicon Valley, setting up his own successful software company NextDoor Networks.

Later, he joined Wall Street and founded hedge fund Izara Capital Management.

But after fulfilling his dreams of becoming a millionaire, he realised something was missing.

Although he had succeeded in filling his family's bellies, his heart felt "so empty".

"I started thinking about my life," he told the audience. "I make more money next year. I make more money the following year, store up more material things... And it just made no sense to me. There was no higher purpose to my life."

After a bout of soul-searching and studying the market, Mr Chatri decided to channel his childhood love of martial arts and the values they embody to found One Championship. He envisioned it being "a beacon of positive energy and hope for the world" that stands for Asian values and appeals to an Asian audience.

"The home of martial arts is in Asia - they are Asia's cultural treasures," Mr Chatri said.

He shared how One Championship's athletes "bow to and hug each other" instead of hurling insults.

"People mimic their heroes. If our heroes are mean or dishonourable, that's what our viewers will be."

The businessman called on members of the audience not to be blinded by the pursuit of money, but instead to have the courage to pursue their dreams and hold on to compassion.

"The world makes it easy for you not to chase your dreams," he said. "So my challenge to everyone here is to do some deep reflection, listen to the small voice in you, and be a hero to your community, your company, and the world."