With a father who worked in landscape gardening Zhejiang-native He Qiaonv followed a family tradition when she attended Beijing Forestry University to learn his trade. Upon graduating in 1988, she went to Hangzhou to take up a public position, only to return to the capital a few years later to visit a bonsai exhibition. She was inspired to start out in business by selling the miniature Japanese trees. It didn’t stop with bonsai. In 1991, she started buying plants in Guangzhou and leasing them to five-star hotels in Beijing. She also ran a florist in the New Century Hotel, which led to her taking over the hotel’s landscaping works.
Almost nipped in the bud
He’s initial ventures however, ended in failure. One of her managers ran off with company cash, and she made a large investment in iron ore, only to lose everything.
She didn’t give up. In 1994, she started providing landscape services to newly built real estate projects in the suburbs of Beijing that targeted foreigners. The next two years proved highly lucrative: “In 1995 and 1996, almost all of Beijing expat real estate landscapes were done by us.” This led to other work, and He took on landscape projects on high profile developments, such as Oriental Plaza.
Late to list
As her business grew, He decided that the next step would be for her company, Orient Landscape, to go public. After all, in 2001 the government announced the imminent arrival of a growth enterprise board, which looked like an obvious source of capital. In preparation for listing she expanded rapidly, undertaking projects all over the country. In 2003, Orient Landscape had 80 projects across the country, with 700 employees.
But it was not to be – after the Nasdaq bubble burst, regulators were less comfortable with introducing the new board, and postponed its launch indefinitely. This proved to be a tough time for New Orient, which after stretching itself beyond its means, was forced to make heavy cuts, and its workforce shrank to just 200 people.
Worth the wait
Last year a growth enterprise board, the ChiNext, was finally launched in Shenzhen. By that time, Orient Landscape had started providing landscaping services to high-profile municipal projects, such as Beijing Airport’s newest terminal. The company did finally go public and her 54% stake is currently worth Rmb8 billion ($1.2 billion). Orient Landscape shares have been one of China’s highest risers in recent months.
The company now employees more than 800 people, with that number expected to reach 1,000 by the end of year. Her plan is to continue growing rapidly – in five years, she wants the company’s market value to reach Rmb100 billion. If this happens, He will be among China’s richest entrepreneurs.
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