Zhang Jindong was born in 1963 and studied at Nanjing Normal University. In 1984 he abandoned his course in Chinese literature to try his hand at business. He worked in air-conditioning, on the installation side, and after six years had saved enough seed capital to start his own business.
Then 27 years old, Zhang rented a 200 square metre unit on Nanjing’s Ninghai Road and founded Suning Appliance – initially as a wholesaler of air-con units.
It was a smart move: Nanjing gets very hot in the summer, and is known as one of the Three Furnaces (the other two are Chongqing and Wuhan). In his first year he earned Rmb10 million of profit on Rmb60 million of sales. Still under 30, he was soon battling with local state enterprises – who started a price war – and winning.
By 1995, Zhang had concluded that the future was in being a retailer rather than a wholesaler. Initially he opened shops exclusively selling air-con units, but in 2000 he decided to expand his ambitions, taking on Gome to open shops that stock a wider range of appliances. He set himself a goal of opening 1,500 stores nationwide in three years, and opened his flagship store in Nanjing’s premium Xinjiekou business district.
By 2004, Suning was opening a new store every four days. By the first four months of this year, that had become a new store every two days. 60 stores were opened in the month of April – a record in the Chinese retail industry.
Need to know
In the past 15 years the company has grown from 10 staff to 70,000 and has increased its sales to almost Rmb40 billion. In the first nine months of the year it made Rmb1.97 billion of net income, up 15%. Listed in 2004, it now views Best Buy as its benchmark.
On this year’s Hurun list, Zhang came 10th with Rmb23.5 billion.
In his own words
“If we blindly pursue stability and fear loss, it is difficult to succeed.”
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