Wei Jianjun was born in 1964 in Beijing but moved with his family to Baoding in Heibei province. His father then left the army to become a businessman and Wei dropped out school to join the family pump business.
When Wei was 26 he signed a contract with the local government to take over a debt-ridden company – Great Wall Industry Corporation, which was involved in the auto industry. Wei launched a Great Wall sedan in 1993, using chassis and engines from other carmakers. The low price attracted customers but a new policy in 1994 stopped carmakers outside the “national catalogue” from producing sedans. Great Wall didn’t make the list.
A business trip to Thailand saved the company. Seeing pick-up trucks on the Thai roads, Wei was inspired to make his own. From 1996, the new Wingle model targeted business owner customers and farmers in rural areas. By 1998 Great Wall pick-ups were a market leader and they remain a bestseller today, with 30% market share.
Encouraged by his success in wider wheel-base pick-ups, Wei began making SUVs. His Haval brand gained a reputation for decent quality at a much cheaper price than imported equivalents. By 2011, sales of Haval hit 23,130 units.
By 2008, Wei had also returned to the sedan market, again with lower-end models. Within three years, sales had surpassed those of SUVs, but at much lower profit. Last October he adjusted his strategy again, focusing on compact sedans targeted at lower-income Chinese families.
Great Wall Motors listed in Hong Kong in 2003 and on the A share market in Shanghai in 2010. Last year revenues at Great Wall Motors increased 30.9% year-on-year to Rmb30.09 billion, with a net profit Rmb3.43 billion, up 26.8%. Great Wall exported 83,000 vehicles in 2011 and opened its first manufacturing plant this year in Bulgaria, where it plans to produce vehicles for the European market in each of the three segments (pick-up, SUV and compact sedan).
And to relax
Wei Jianjun’s motto is “improve a little everyday”, and the motto is printed all over the company, even on the canteen’s tea cups. But Wei relaxes by collecting cars: he says he has bought at least 30 foreign luxury cars to study their engines but has since given them to friends, and now drives only a Great Wall SUV. He also likes table tennis because it’s “a low cost sport”.
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