Born in the western province of Gansu in 1963, Pan was initially disadvantaged by his family background – his father was labelled a ‘rightist’. Things improved in 1977 when his father was rehabilitated after Mao’s death. Pan later enrolled in Lanzhou’s polytechnic school and was then accepted by Hebei Petrol Pipeline College.
On graduation, Pan was assigned a job with the Ministry of Petroleum’s Economic Reform Research Bureau. In 1987 he made a trip to Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Coming from the ice and snow of the north to the south’s “singing birds and fragrant flowers” was a revelation. He thought it was “paradise”.
Pan quit his job, sold all he had and decided to try his luck in the south. He arrived with just Rmb80, and had to spend Rmb50 of that to pay someone to help him find a way through the fence surrounding the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. He joined a consulting company but soon discovered Shenzhen wasn’t exactly the paradise he’d believed it to be, and became depressed. So when a chance arose to leave for the island of Hainan, he grabbed it. There he first found work as boss of a brick factory, but it wasn’t long before he co-founded real estate developer Vantone.
Hainan was enjoying a real estate boom and Pan decided to cash in. He figured Beijing would offer more sustainable growth, so he moved there in 1992. In 1994 he met his wife and business partner, ex-investment banker Zhang Xin. He left Vantone to set up SOHO China with her. The vision for their business was to collaborate with internationally-recognised architects to produce stylish, modern apartment buildings for Beijing’s urban professionals.
Need to know
SOHO’s slogan is ‘building city centre prosperity’, and the company has had a marked impact on Beijing’s skyline, with landmark structures such as SOHO New Town and Jianwai SOHO. In terms of sales, SOHO’s projects have been the most successful in Beijing, thanks to their good locations and high quality finishes. According to its website, SOHO has built more gross floor area in Beijing’s CBD than any other firm. And with The Exchange development in 2009 it also became a major player in Shanghai. Its Hong Kong IPO – which raised $1.9 billion – means it is not short of funds. As reported in WiC17, it took advantage of last year’s crisis to buy distressed real estate at reduced prices.
In his own words
He may be famous for his buildings these days, but Pan recalls it wasn’t always so. “When I was at high school I walked with my head down. I had no idea how high the school building was – even up to graduation.”
Pan is known for being both a savvy billionaire and stylish intellectual – an unusual combination among the country’s tycoons. He ranks 53rd on Hurun’s 2009 rich list with Rmb13 billion.
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