Dai Zhikang was born in 1964 to a poor farming family in Jiangsu, the fourth of six children. However, thanks to his excellent performance in the national college entrance exam (the gaokao) – 98 out of 100 in mathematics – he was able to enroll at Renmin University’s department of international finance, and then read philosophy at Shanghai’s Fudan University. After a brief stint as a journalist for the Financial News, he joined CITIC Industrial Bank.
In 1988 he moved to Hainan where he founded the International Finance Company. But it wasn’t a success and Dai returned to Beijing to work with a German bank.
In 1990 one of his university classmates invited him back to Hainan. They soon set up one of China’s earliest fund management companies. Rich Island raised Rmb60 million ($8.82 million) for stock and real estate investment and by the age of 28 Dai was well known in investment circles.
Then, disaster. In the 1993 stock market crash he was all but wiped out. He bounced back, repaid his debtors and in 1998 he founded Zendai Investment Group, with his focus now on property development.
“I have never been a pure businessman,” Dai told China Youth Daily, and he has become a major patron of Shanghai’s contemporary art scene. Last year Dai opened the Shanghai Zendai Himalayas Centre which houses an art museum, a performance hall and five star hotels and offices.
A strong believer in cultural projects, he tries to combine them with his commercial vision. His new Zendai Art Hotel in the city’s Pudong area targets business travellers but also showcases modern art; while the Zendai Hotel Yin is described as an “urban retreat” with a focus on traditional Chinese medicine treatments.
King of the Bund
Earlier this year Dai captured headlines as Shanghai’s ‘land king’ when Zendai paid a record Rmb9.2 billion for a large parcel of land close to the city’s iconic Bund. It was the highest ever sum for a parcel of land – both in absolute terms and in terms of price per square metre – in Shanghai’s real estate history.
This led the media to speculate on Zendai’s potential cashflow problems, since the land cost 15 times the cash Zendai had on hand. Dai’s executives told Time Weekly that while the price was high they remain confident of success because the 45,472 square metre site is unique in terms of its location and scale. To finance the project’s development plans Zendai may partner with other real estate firms. However, with the government actively cooling the property market, Dai’s timing looks far from perfect.
In 2009 Dai ranked 98 on the Hurun rich list with Rmb7.5 billion.
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