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Meng Wanzhou

Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou and the rich Chinese daughters following in their father’s corporate footsteps

  • Previously low-profile chief financial officer is the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, founder of the Chinese telecommunications giant
  • Country Garden cochairwoman Yang Huiyan and New Hope Liuhe chairwoman Liu Chang are among those climbing the corporate ladder in mainland companies
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 December, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2018, 9:34pm

Meng Wanzhou’s arrest in Canada has turned the Huawei chief financial officer from a low-profile executive into a globally recognised face, drawing attention to an emerging group of rich and powerful daughters in the Chinese business world.

Before being imprisoned in Vancouver at the US’ request earlier this month, a move that infuriated Beijing and set off a diplomatic row between China and Canada, the 46-year-old daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei had kept an exceptionally low profile.

Meng – also known as Sabrina Meng – has been working for the family business for around 25 years, climbing the corporate ladder along with Huawei’s phenomenal expansion, but there was previously little information about her apart from a brief official profile and a small number of photos.

But after Meng’s arrest at Vancouver International Airport on December 1, subsequent court hearing and release on C$10 million (US$7.5 million) bail, information about her marriage, children, passports and the value of her properties in Vancouver were thrust into the public domain, shedding light on the lifestyle of Chinese women in line to run vast business empires created by their fathers.

Meng did not appear on the list of the top 50 richest women compiled by the Hurun Report this year, largely because information about Huawei’s valuation and ownership structure remains private, offering little about her net worth.

But the list did include at least seven second-generation women, who gained their wealth from their parents.

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Generally, they all studied or lived abroad, saw their parents amass their wealth from scratch, and faced little or no competition from siblings partly thanks to China’s rigid one-child policy over the last four decades.

They also faced similar challenges such as handling relations with China’s male-dominated bureaucratic system as they made their way up the corporate ladder, according to analysts.

“From a purely business standpoint, these female corporate titans probably face little gender-based resistance,” said Brock Silvers, managing director of Shanghai-based investment advisory Kaiyuan Capital.

“From a government relations standpoint, however, this can be a complicated development, as much of China’s high-level bureaucracy is still male-dominated, and those social relationships can be an existential requirement for many business models.”

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Silvers also said the pressure “of filling a legendary father’s shoes” would weigh heavily on the women.

Another woman in the second-generation cohort is Yang Huiyan, the second daughter of Yeung Kwok-keung, who founded property developer Country Garden.

Yang, 37, has an estimated 150 billion yuan (US$21.8 billion) in personal wealth due to her 57 per cent stake in her father’s company, from which she receives a salary of 15 million yuan (US$2.18 million) per year.

Yang, China’s richest woman according to the Hurun Report, was promoted this month to cochairwoman of Country Garden along with her father, according to a stock exchange filing.

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Yang graduated from Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and logistics before joining Country Garden in 2005 and working her way through the ranks from head of procurement.

Like Meng before her arrest, Yang has never accepted a media interview and her lifestyle is shrouded in secrecy.

Another prominent woman heir in the Chinese corporate world is Liu Chang, who took control of New Hope Liuhe, one of China’s biggest animal feed producers under the conglomerate New Hope Group, in 2013 from her billionaire father Liu Yonghao at the age of just 33.

Liu, who has a 36 per cent stake in the group, shares a wealth of 14.5 billion yuan with her mother, according to the Hurun Report.

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She went to high school in the United States in 1994 aged 14, but went back to work for her father a decade later.

Before taking charge of New Hope Liuhe, she briefly ran cafes and accessories shops in Chengdu supported by investment from her father, and later took a job with the New Hope Group in Singapore, according to Chinese media reports.

The annual report from Shenzhen-listed New Hope Liuhe showed she earned in the region of 3.85 million yuan (US$559,620) before tax last year.

Kelly Zong Fuli is also on track to take over from her father, Zong Qinghou, who was China’s richest man in 2010, according to the Hurun Report.

Zong Qinghou created Wahaha Group, China’s biggest beverage group, and his daughter now runs major subsidy Hongsheng Beverage.

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The 36-year-old attended San Marino High School in United States and graduated from Pepperdine University in 2004.

In an interview with The Guardian in 2013, she was quoted by the British newspaper as saying that China’s economic development had come at a cost.

“I think we lost our soul. In the US, they have beliefs: Christianity, Catholicism. China has Buddhism but I don’t think people really believe it in their heart,” she was quoted as saying.