By Jennifer A. Haire
When Albert Chen, founder and board chair of Carmel-based Telamon Corp., received the call from the governor’s office that he was to receive the Sachem Award, his appreciation was soon followed by a Google search of what the award was.
Sachem is an Algonquin term used to identify village leaders who possess great character and reputation. In 1970, then-Indiana Gov. Edgar Whitcomb adopted the term to recognize Hoosiers who promote the state’s culture and economy.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb felt Chen was an ideal fit for the program, revived as an award in 2005. He presented the Sachem to Chen during a Nov. 2 ceremony at The Tarkington Theatre in Carmel.
“Albert came from a humble beginning as a first-generation immigrant from Taiwan, but through grit, perseverance and relentless work ethic, Albert built a $839 million company with more than 2,000 employees,” Holcomb stated. “He is an innovator and entrepreneur extraordinaire who’s long been guided by the same principles he founded the company on, namely honesty, harmony, simplicity and stewardship.”
While in his first year of his doctorate program at Portland State University, Chen took a job with GTE in Washington state. Aspiring for a career beyond research, he conveyed to his supervisor that he was interested in a general management position. Half a year later, Chen was promoted to supply manager, where he would learn on the job to oversee 70 warehouses. When GTE eventually restructured, he opted away from the big cities and chose the Westfield location where he could be the “head of the rooster, rather than the tail of the calf,” he said. However, in 1983, a 29 percent staff layoff motivated him to quit.
Chen frequently made trips back to Taiwan to give lectures at universities and for industry associations. On one trip, a Taiwanese company selling telephone systems for small offices expressed interest in employing him. Deciding he no longer wanted to work for someone else, he agreed but on the condition that he would sell the product himself. So, he started Telamon.
Chen has grown Telamon into a multifaceted business that has impacted several Indiana communities. Its telecommunications arm has advanced with new technology, supporting large venues such as Lucas Oil stadium. Its consulting on green energy innovations has had an impact on rural small towns and schools, as well as large scale installations such as at the Indianapolis International Airport, which was once home to the largest airport solar farm in the world.
Telamon has worked to create safer and more attractive jobs through manufacturing and robotics systems, while collaborating with Indiana universities such as Purdue and Vincennes to educate and train students.
In 2017 Chen transitioned the company to his children while remaining on as a board member. In retirement he recently took a trip to Egypt, and he hopes to eventually visit all seven continents. In addition, he is authoring a book about his life and career.
Chen and his wife, Margaret, a former concert pianist he met while at Portland State, are both fans of music and the symphony. They have been residents of Carmel since 1979. He’s watched the city grow, loves the roundabouts and enjoys having four seasons.
“(I also) appreciate the people’s kindness and friendliness,” Chen said.
Chen, who sometimes refers to himself as “Chinese-Indian” not just Taiwanese, was honored by Gov. Holcomb on November 2nd, at The Tarkington at the Center for the Performing Arts. At 80 years of age, he jokingly referred to the award ceremony as his memorial service where he gets to say a few words.
History of the Sachem
In 1970, Indiana Gov. Edgar D. Whitcomb introduced the Sachems, a group of business, industry, publishing, banking and legal leaders, who served as state hosts, welcoming visitors to Indiana and promoting the state’s culture and economy. The organization’s name came from the Algonquin term applied to village leaders, implying wisdom, judgment and grace.
Following Whitcomb’s term, the Sachem (pronounced say-chum) project was not continued, and the organization dissolved in 1989. Whitcomb visited Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2005 to acquaint him with the concept. Daniels recreated the Sachem to underscore the importance of moral example, as he believed achievement alone without exemplary virtue does not qualify a person for this recognition.
Including Albert Chen, 18 Sachem awards have been bestowed by an Indiana governor since the honor was revived in 2005. Each Sachem honoree receives a specially designed sculpture.
- 2005: John Wooden — College basketball coach, teacher and mentor
- 2006: Rev. Theodore Hesburgh — Former president of the University of Notre Dame and world statesman
- 2007: Jane Blaffer Owen — Philanthropist and preservationist of New Harmony
- 2008: Bill and Gloria Gaither — Grammy winning singer/songwriter duo from Alexandria, Ind.
- 2009: Donald C. “Danny” Danielson — New Castle business and civic leader
- 2010: Carl D. Erskine — Civic leader and baseball player
- 2011: William A. “Bill” Cook — Philanthropist and co-founder of Cook Inc.
- 2012: Ian M. Rolland — CEO of Lincoln National Corp.
- 2013: Don Wolf — Civic leader and CEO of Do It Best, Corp.
- 2014: P.E. MacAllister — Businessman and civic leader
- 2015: Amos C. Brown, III — Radio host and civic leader
- 2017: Eva Mozes Kor — Holocaust survivor; forgiveness and civility advocate
- 2018: Sammy L. Davis — Vietnam veteran, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient
- 2019: Dr. George Rapp — Humanitarian
- 2020: Reginald O. Jones, Sr. — Businessman, community leader and mentor
- 2021: James T. Morris — Civic leader, global ambassador and advocate for youth
- 2022: Patricia Ann Koch — Community leader and originating partner of Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari
- 2023: Albert Chen — Entrepreneur, innovator and Asian American advocate
Source: Indiana governor’s office