Who’s Hu

China’s richest woman (for now)

Wu Yajun

China’s richest woman (for now)

Born in Hechuan, a small town within the Chongqing municipality, Wu Yajun got a degree in navigational engineering from the Northwestern Polytechnical University. In 1984 she began work at the state-owned Qianwei Meter Factory. Four years later, she switched paths, spending the next six years as a journalist at China Shirong News Agency, a publication owned by the Ministry of Construction.

In 1994 she then set up her own trading company, and soon afterwards established Longfor Properties with her husband, the pair owning a 76% stake.

Getting started

Longhu South Garden, a residential complex in Chongqing, was her first project in 1995. Wu is still proud of it today. She focused her efforts on every detail, including the planting of specific trees and flowers designed to attract more birds. The project proved a success, and a Longhu West Garden was launched in 1999. Insiders recalled, “Longfor sold its homes even faster than cabbages sold in the market.”

Having established Longfor’s reputation, Wu wasn’t in a rush to expand elsewhere, preferring to focus on Chongqing. By the end of 2005, sales had hit Rmb1.12 billion, making the firm the top property developer in the city.

Wu then told South Weekend her business secret: “Intense investments in commercial real estate to win the trust of local government”.

North Tianjie is one example. Before she moved in, North Tianjie was a remote area in Chonqing. Now it’s a vibrant commercial zone covering over 140,000 square metres.

Wu began to expand elsewhere in 2006. Longfor Properties now has projects in 11 cities, including Beijing, Chengdu, and Xi’an, and has a landbank of developed and undeveloped sites comprising 33.8 million square metres.

Hong Kong listing

Longfor went public in November 2009 in Hong Kong raising $1 billion, with cornerstone investors including Ping An Insurance and Singapore’s Temasek. Shortly afterwards, her husband left the company to focus on his own golf course business and last year Wu also announced that she’d step down as CEO, but remain as chairwoman. She’s also hired professional management in an attempt to make Longfor less of a family business.

Longfor Properties had sales of more than Rmb4.5 billion in the first quarter, up 78.6% year-on-year. But Wu cautioned that it was unlikely such high growth rates would continue for 2012 as a whole because of the government’s property tightening policies. “If we go too fast, we might fail,” she added, noting the company had Rmb14.5 billion of cash and wouldn’t need to buy any more land for five to six years.

Need to know

Wu was named as China’s richest woman last year, with a personal fortune of Rmb42 billion ($6.66 billion) surpassing Zhang Yin of Nine Dragons Paper, according to Hurun’s 2011 Rich List. Not that she’s snobbish with it: within the company, she claims to call every staff member “brother”, whether he is a gardener or a top executive.

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