Chinese developer Greenland deepens go-global drive to diversify into e-commerce
For Shanghai-based Greenland Group, one of the mainland’s three largest property developers, the global future is in the burgeoning market for e-commerce, as it looks to add a new dimension to the government’s call for companies beyond borders.
Chairman Zhang Yuliang sees a grand online trading platform that connects its procurement hubs abroad with its logistics centres on the mainland.
“Greenland envisions becoming a frontrunner in cross-border e-commerce, rather than a follower,” Zhang said. “The segment is a prospective commercial territory that Greenland wants to move in.”
Outside the mainland, it has set up four procurement centres in the United States, South Korea, Australia and Britain, and has signed preliminary agreements with partners from France, Hungary, Canada and Japan to bolster cross-border trading.
Greenland, owned by an arm of the Shanghai city government, is aggressively investing in global markets as it looks to diversify after focusing almost all of its investment on the mainland for the past two decades.
Listed in both Shanghai and Hong Kong, the company has made many overseas investments in recent years. They included a US$1 billion mixed-use Metropolis project in Los Angeles and a historical site in Canary Wharf in London for £600 million. Some estimates put its total overseas investments at than 120 billion yuan.
Greenland now has presence in 12 cities of nine countries, spanning across four continents.
In 2013, its investment in a US$5 billion New York residential complex, the Atlantic Yards Apartment Project in Brooklyn, was the biggest of its kind by a Chinese developer in the US.
It will continue to focus on top cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Sydney as well as countries with strong links with China such as Malaysia and Singapore.
Born in Shanghai in 1956, Zhang studied agriculture in college and later worked as a housing officer at the Shanghai Municipal Agriculture Commission dealing with workers’ housing problems.
In 1992, he set up Greenland with the support of the Shanghai government. At the helm through the company’s 24-year rise, Zhang has seen the company rise from one with registered capital of 20 million to one with operating income of 402.1 billion yuan and total assets of 478.4 billion yuan as of 2014.
Zhang has pledged to make the company a Fortune Global 500 Enterprise by as early as 2005. It ranked 258th of the Fortune Global 500 enterprises in 2015.
While property development would remain the key driving force for Greenland’s globalisation campaign, for the next phase, Zhang said the company aimed to create an eco-system with a complete logistics network supporting online transactions, an online payment system and an introduction of insurers.
It engages in both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) deals.
“The move to kick off Greenland’s cross-border e-commerce businesses aligns with central government’s strategic policies, meets consumers’ demand and benefits company’s development,” Zhang said.
The company initially targets annual sales of 2 billion yuan via cross-border trading platforms and targets 10 billion yuan of sales by the time its complete chain of businesses is established and operational.
China’s exports and imports fell by 7 per cent in 2015 owing to shrinking global demand, but online shopping for foreign-made products via the internet jumped about 40 per cent as the rising affluence of mainlanders increased demand for high-quality food, clothes and daily necessities from abroad.
In 2016, Greenland plans to open 20 retail stores to display and sell imported goods, with the number of outlets rising to 50 by the end of next year.
Zhang said that the diversification into e-commerce was also in line with Greenland’s decision to embark on a light-asset model amid China’s transition into an economic growth pattern driven by consumption.
“Globalising the businesses is not only about developing properties around the globe, but about doing business with an international perspective,” he said.
“Raising funds abroad is also part of the go-global campaign.”
Last month, Greenland announced a plan to set up and list a real estate investment trust (Reit) backed by hotel assets on the Singapore Stock Exchange.
Greenland will set up the trust product with investment firm Amare, the largest Reit issued by Chinese property firms so far.