WSF Group was an early mover into the metal recycling industry, at a time when few saw its potential. That industry is now forecasted to be worth US406.16 billion by 2020, fuelled by consumer and commercial consumption habits and the ever-shortening life spans of modern devices.
The company was established in 1994 and grew to become a multimillion-dollar business, with nearly 200 employees across several countries.
In 2017, after a restructuring and rebranding, WSF was reborn as Majestic Corporation, leaving behind past adversities. Although the reset marked a new beginning for the venture, lessons learned over the previous two decades have been carried forward to today, acting as a firm foundation for the company’s new identity.
At least, that’s how the man behind the company sees it.
The Millennial Source Interview with Peter Lai
I met with Lai shortly before his morning flight from Hong Kong to London. Walking around Central Hong Kong, Lai projected an intense yet friendly aura while speaking on a wide variety of topics. Prior to meeting with me, he had never spoken out publicly, preferring to lay low and hide behind the curtains during ovations.
While answering questions, Lai responded with a series of “ums”, punctuated with bursts of loosely connected epiphanies that hinted at a fast and chaotic thought process. At one point, he paused to ask with laughing eyes, “Have I over-stimulated your mind?”
Though he is now considered a successful business leader, Lai’s working life began unremarkably at age 10, in the back of a restaurant. Thinking back on his job washing dishes at the local Chinese eatery, he said, “I remember being really proud that I had just finished this pile of dishes, only to have my heart drop when I turned around to see another pile, around my height, awaiting my tend.”
Between the ages of 10 and 16, Lai moved across three cities and multiple suburbs, working multiple jobs as his family’s financial troubles continued. “Four in the morning I’d go deliver fruit, then make dim sum till midday. Yum Cha started at 12 p.m., so I’d work till four then go gamble from four to six during my break. In the evening, I’d work the night shift at a different restaurant and then go home.” When asked about school, Lai responded, “I never fucking went to school.
“We went to see a friend of my parents because our rent was up at our old place. So we ended up in this friend’s caravan. They gave us a loaf of bread, peanut butter and jam for the whole week. After that week, we hitchhiked to a shopping mall, and yeah. That was the first time I realized we were poor.”
“Oh,” he adds, “One of the schools I was enrolled in also pissed me off. I told everyone Bruce Lee was my uncle so nobody would beat me up, and so I got very popular at this Catholic school. Because the school pissed me off I robbed it once, too … I did some bad shit.”
Pressed slightly regarding what else he had done, Lai responded with a story that highlighted his entrepreneurial nature. “I was once also working at a video store, and the boss was an asshole, also never paid me on time. So I would steal his store’s porn, go rent it out to four, five guys in a different area for two dollars a session in the afternoons.”
“But,” he continued, “the string of jobs, that stopped when I met my wife. Then I started wanting to have a life of my own.”
When asked what he attributes his success to, Lai responded without hesitation and with absolute conviction: “My wife.”
There is a lot of hype surrounding the traits one needs to achieve success. Discipline, vision, tenacity, selling skills, leadership skills and the list goes on. Analysts constantly search for the perfect formula that separates the successful from the unsuccessful. But Lai is certain that his success can be attributed equally to his character, his environment and his family.
As the interview unfolded, a pattern emerged in Lai’s responses. When asked a question, he initially replies with either a lightning-fast interpretation of the question and its meaning for him, or with details that would typically come after a basic response – as if he had already addressed the crux of the question in his mind.
Asked how he stays focused, Lai offered, “It’s important you know your position and work with what you have all the time. When you are twenty, thirty years old, you can aim for the stars, because your biggest asset is time. As you get past thirty and married with kids and everything, be a bit more conservative. If you can’t aim for the stars, aim for the Eiffel Tower or something. When you’re forty, right, you gotta know your limits cause when you fall, it really hurts.”
Regardless of his age, Lai adheres to one basic principle in everything he does: everything has to be kept simple. “People always try and set themselves impossible goals. Yes, you gotta have a vision, but you need milestones. Everything goes back to the basics. Have a target, attach a value to it and have a time limit. If you don’t have these three things, there is no meaning to start anything.”
When pressed for further insights about his business, his strategies and his future, Lai responded merely with, “I need to upgrade.” His communication style revolves around tangentially related bits and pieces, not cohesive narratives on a single topic.
However, one thing remains inarguably true about Lai. He moves fast, constantly anticipating his own and others’ next moves, seizing any opportunity that comes his way.
“I tell my kids, never bitch… we are small civilians, we can’t stop or change anything.”
The interview ended with a quick goodbye, before Lai raced off to Hong Kong International Airport.