SF Express chief Wang Wei unseats Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing as third-richest Chinese

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 March, 2017, 4:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 March, 2017, 10:57pm

A Hong Kong-raised parcel delivery man has unseated Li Ka-shing to become the world’s third ranked Chinese billionaire, behind property-to-media mogul Wang Jianlin and Alibaba Group Holding’s chairman Jack Ma Yun, a new survey showed.

Wang Wei, chairman and founder of SF Express – the country’s equivalent to DHL – saw his wealth skyrocket five-fold to US$27 billion within the last few weeks. His current fortune has already outstripped the US$25 billion net worth of Hong Kong’s “superman Li” whose wealth remained unchanged last year, according to the latest Hurun Global Rich List, which tracks the world’s wealthiest people.

The phenomenal rise of Wang in the super-rich rankings was propelled by a US$30 billion public listing of his courier company in Shanghai in late February. Within the first few days of trading SF Express shares had surged as much as 40 per cent and so had the fortunes of the 46-year-old who holds 66 per cent of the company.

Wang also swapped spots with Tencent founder Pony Ma Huateng to become the third richest man on the Chinese mainland.

In a typical rags to riches story in China, the son of an interpreter and a university teacher migrated to Hong Kong from Shanghai at the age of seven. A high-school dropout, Wang started out as a textile factory worker in Guangdong before setting up his courier service SF Express in 1993 with a 100,000 yuan loan from his father.

SF is a fast delivery giant, but more strings likely to be added to its bow

Wang jumped into the mainland’s parcel delivery business at a time when it was dominated by state-owned China Post. Ever since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 citizens would have to visit their nearest post office to ship packages and wait a few weeks before they arrived at the recipient’s house.

When Wang set up his business in the early 1990s, the thought of shopping online was beyond anybody’s imagination. But China’s e-commerce boom over the past several years, pioneered by online marketplaces controlled by Alibaba and JD.com, saw privately-run courier services such as SF Express prosper. Besides pricing, speed of delivery played a key role in online shipping vendors’ winning the fierce competition for orders.

Over the last 25 years the little-known startup has grown to become a logistics empire with 37 cargo aircraft and 400,000 employees, with 2015 revenues of 48.1 billion yuan (US$7 billion), quadruple that of rival YTO Express, the second largest player in the sector.

Despite his company’s growing prominence Wang himself maintains a low profile. He has only talked to the media once since founding his company – a 2011 interview with the People’s Daily.

In 2010, he shelled out HK$350 million for land on Hong Kong’s affluent La Salle Road in Kowloon Tong, where he built a lavish four-storey villa.

From six men and a van to 400,000 staff and a fleet of 35 aircraft: the making of SF Express

While Wang emerged as the “dark horse” among China’s super-rich, the Hurun report indicated that Alibaba’s Ma is on track to catch up with Dalian Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin in the wealth race. The net worth of the Hangzhou entrepreneur, who oversees the world’s largest online retail empire, jumped 38 per cent to US$29 billion, narrowing the gap with Wanda’s Wang at US$30 billion.

Separately, the Hurun report showed that Beijing, despite its notorious air pollution, was the “Billionaire Capital of the World” for the second year in a row, ahead of New York. The Chinese capital is home to Baidu’s Robin Li Yanhong and Wang Jianlin, who owns global cinema chain AMC Entertainment and Hollywood studio Legendary Pictures.

Shenzhen, a fishing village-turned tech hub that is home to Huawei and Tencent, is home to 16 new billionaires created last year. The Chinese equivalent of Silicon Valley ranked fourth in terms of concentration of ultra wealthy population.

“Shenzhen and Hong Kong now have the highest concentration of wealth in the world, ahead even of California,” Hurun’s chief researcher Rupert Hoogewerf said.

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

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