For a high school dropout, Richard Elman has done well for himself. Having failed his O-Levels at the age of 15, he did the pragmatic thing and decided to leave secondary school to start a career working at a scrap metal yard - a job his parents found for him. So began a 50-year career in the commodities business. Good things can come from a seemingly bad situation. It was through working in a metal yard that Elman, who is now chief executive of the Noble Group and winner of this year's Business Person of the Year Award and International Award, discovered his aptitude, affinity and passion for commodities. Although working in a blue-collar job clashed with the expectations of his father, a highly intellectual man, he did acknowledge his son's achievements, albeit later in life. In the 1970s, Elman was a physical commodities trader at the trading house of Phibro before it was purchased by Salomon Brothers. He was regional director of Phibro's Asian operations for a decade, including two years as a board director in New York. Despite the recession, he is the helmsman of a global supply chain encompassing countless agricultural, energy and industrial products that boasted revenues of US$36.1 billion last year. Founded in 1986, with Elman's personal savings of US$100,000, Singapore-listed and Hong Kong-headquartered Noble has more than 100 offices in 40 nations serving more than 4,000 customers. The company manages a diverse portfolio of raw materials and is engaged in their sourcing, financing, processing, distribution and marketing. Noble owns firms in Australia, Indonesia and Brazil that it uses to supply resource-hungry markets such as the Middle East, the mainland and India. Some of its strategic assets include sugar and ethanol plants, grain-crushing facilities, ports and coal and iron mines. Elman believes that doing business has become more competitive in the past two decades, but he's unfazed. 'It's a challenge to hone your skills,' he said. As someone who prizes excellence, Elman believes that the DHL/SCMP Hong Kong Business Awards are important to the city as 'a mark of accomplishment' for an entire team's efforts. 'Everyone at Noble is very pleased to be recognised. It's not often companies get recognised,' he said. Although Hong Kong is a city that has been good to him, Elman's sights are broader and further. 'Hong Kong has always been a small environment, but our business is global. Because our business is outside Hong Kong, we always look for opportunities outside it, regardless of what the economic climate is like,' he said. 'We have discipline, passion and a shared vision. We pride ourselves on being the best in [the] class. We also pride ourselves on maintaining high standards. Last but not least, we have integrity and respect - respect for ourselves, for our colleagues and for the people we interact with.' Elman is also modest about his leadership abilities and business savvy, attributing his successes to luck and others. 'Honestly, I just hired good people and, because this place grew, I have experienced a lot of [financial] growth. The world's growth allowed me to grow my business.' He believes that one never knows what path they will take and whom they will meet, and he is grateful to have known those who helped him scale the ladder of success. 'You never know who might come into your life and how things might turn out. Someone helped me here, someone helped me there, and that made my company successful,' Elman said. Notwithstanding his successes, he acknowledged some regrets. 'I suppose I have a few, as we all do, but more so on the personal side than on the business side. I would have made some substantive changes in the way I did things and regarding certain people. However, if I had to do it again, I would have done it the same way,' he said. Despite not having the benefit of a formal education past secondary school, he still prizes learning and encourages young entrepreneurs to get some education and experience before starting their own ventures. 'However, I would always encourage people to do what they think satisfies them,' he said.