A few years ago the editor of WiC had dinner with Shi Yuzhu on Lamma Island. The meal took place in a very basic seafood restaurant – so modest in fact that you got to your table by walking through the kitchen.
That dinner in Hong Kong now seems like especially good value for money: a recent online auction saw a lunch with the same man sell for a cool Rmb2 million ($294, 952).
Shi – one of China’s most prominent entrepreneurs – made his first fortune in healthcare products, and later made billions with his online gaming firm, Giant Interactive. So the chance to dine with him was presented by website umiwi.com as akin to Warren Buffett’s famous steakhouse lunches – annual events where the US investor auctions off a couple of hours of his time for charity.
The Buffett lunch has garnered a lot of publicity in China. In fact, last year the winning bidder was Chinese fund manager Zhao Danyang, who paid $2.11 million for the privilege of sitting down to eat with the Sage of Omaha (see WiC22) and then asking whatever he liked. That’s why umiwi.com’s founder Wang Lifen had the idea that a Chinese equivalent could also raise funds for charity – as well as give her new website a bit of publicity.
Wang is a bit of an entrepreneur herself. She gained prominence as a news anchor on state broadcaster CCTV. But after a period studying at Yale she returned to her native land with a big idea. Having seen the success of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice she conceived a version with Chinese characteristics. State broadcaster CCTV backed her vision and aired Win in China (see WiC44). The show, in which the winners getfunds from a venture capital firm to start their own business, became a phenomenal success. Judges on the programme included top businesspeople like Liu Chuanzhi (Lenovo) and Zhang Ruimin (Haier).
Having produced and fronted the show, Wang then quit CCTV to do something on her own. Using her contacts in the business world, she set up umiwi.com to teach young people how to launch their own businesses. The site sees established tycoons share their stories of how they struck it big.
And the lunch auction? “Shi Yuzhu and I are friends,” says Wang. “One time when he was in Beijing I told him about the Buffett lunch. I had some hesitation about asking him directly to do it, but before I could ask he volunteered.” The funds have been donated to the Happiness Project, targeted at poor families in China’s rural southwest.
She says the auction has proven such a success that other business leaders have told her they are also prepared to auction their time for charity. Next up, she says, is Alibaba founder, Jack Ma.
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