Ping An Insurance

China's '007 of finance' back in spotlight in Ping An deal

Key player behind the sale of HSBC's stake in Ping An Insurance a man of mystery

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 December, 2012, 11:22am

The man behind HSBC's Ping An stake sale is said to be as secretive as James Bond, with his weapon of choice his financial wizardry.

Xiao Jianhua, born in 1971 in Shandong province, founded and controls the low-profile but immensely powerful Beijing-headquartered Tomorrow Holdings, which has subsidiaries and direct and indirect investments in various financial companies on the mainland ranging from banks to securities houses.

Xiao came under the media spotlight in 2007 when Pacific Securities, part-owned by his Tomorrow group, went public. Financial irregularities were discovered in the listing process and eventually cost a China Securities Regulatory Commission vice-chairman his job. Xiao escaped unscathed, but has been mostly living outside the mainland since, say sources.

A prodigy, Xiao was admitted to the prestigious Peking University, more commonly known as Beida, in 1986 - when he was only 15 - to study law. He went on to become an influential student leader at the university.

Beida, offering Xiao the opportunity to make important contacts who would come in useful later in his life, was also where he launched his first business. In the early 1990s, Xiao started a small technology firm that was allowed to use Beida as part of its name, giving it instant credibility.

By 1999, Xiao merged all the firms he had founded or invested in into Tomorrow Holdings, marking the beginning of a rapidly expanding business empire.

His detractors argue that Xiao's mercurial rise owes much to his uncanny ability to use other people's money to leverage loans from banks for big deals and quickly cashing out when they are done.

The Tomorrow group holds stakes in several banks, securities and trust firms on the mainland. His business partners include many princelings, including the former vice-president Zeng Qinghong's son, who worked with Xiao to bid for a Taiwanese life insurer in 2009.

The Taiwan deal didn't materialise as the island's regulators could not ascertain who the real buyer was. Xiao's background and links to senior officials in Beijing also raised many eyebrows at the time.

Xiao rarely speaks or appears in public. When he contacts people, he uses a special one-way line to call or text messages that can't be traced back or replied to, according to a 2009 report by Taiwan magazine Business Today.

More on HSBC deal: Reports that a secretive mainland businessman with close links to Hong Kong tycoons and mainland officials played a key role in Charoen Pokphand Group's plan to buy HSBC's Ping An stake raise fresh questions about the real buyer and the source of funding for the deal...