State technocrat takes on job as global fund manager

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2007, 12:00am

A former soldier, computer programmer and economist, Lou Jiwei, head of China Investment Corp, does not have the typical profile of a US$200 billion investment fund manager.

But what he does have are management skills gained from leading a team of Finance Ministry technocrats who worked out the country's fiscal policy.

Perhaps more importantly, the career civil servant also has the strong connections needed to prosper in Beijing's political hothouse, as well as a technocrat's eye for detail. These are assets he will need to manage the mainland's mint-fresh investment agency and one of the world's biggest state asset management houses.

Mr Lou, 56, was finance vice-minister before being promoted to secretary-general of the State Council - the cabinet - and the CIC job earlier this year.

'Lou Jiwei is a very clever person with a clear mind and the ability to make the right judgments and decisions,' said Lu Hongjun, president of the Shanghai Institute of International Finance, who got acquainted with Mr Lou from his days in Shanghai.

Prof Lu spoke highly of Mr Lou management and planning skills, calling him 'an outstanding professional in fiscal finance', and added that he was 'full of initiatives'.

Born on December 24, 1950, Mr Lou's schooling was cut short by the Cultural Revolution at 16. After five years serving in the People's Liberation Army, during which he taught himself maths, he went to work in 1973 as a computer programmer at a big Beijing steel mill. He received his bachelor's degree in computing at Tsinghua University, and then earned a master's degree in economics from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a top state-backed think-tank. Unknown to many, Mr Lou owed his political rise to former premier Zhu Rongji, who, ironically, was known for not nurturing his own men.

One economist recalled that Mr Lou met his mentor when attending a class that Mr Zhu conducted at Tsinghua.

After Mr Lou worked as a researcher on monetary policy and public finance for the State Council, Mr Zhu moved him to Shanghai to assist the then mayor , when the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping wanted to transform the eastern metropolis into an international financial hub on par with New York and London.

When Mr Zhu became the state's economic tsar, Mr Lou was sent back to Beijing in 1992, where he worked on macroeconomic reforms and helped design China's value-added tax, the economist said.

This was followed by a stint as a vice-governor of the poor southwestern province of Guizhou between 1995 and 1998, before his promotion to finance vice-minister.

With experience at the local and state levels, Mr Lou has demonstrated his skills in reconciling different political interests within the government and the ruling party.

Mr Lou holds the strings to a huge purse indeed. The real test is how fast he can transform himself from a state technocrat into a global fund manager.