Zhang Shiping was born in 1947 in Weiqiao, a small town in Shandong province. In 1966 Zhang was sent to the countryside. “That was a magnificent year in my life. The tough environment has forged my iron will,” he recalled.
In 1981 Zhang Shiping became boss of Zouping Number 5 Oil and Textile Factory. But it wasn’t until 1994 that the turning point in his life arrived when he took over Weiqiao Textile Factory. It then had 61 employees (it has 160,000 today).
How to explain Zhang’s success? A local official describes him as “audacious in the extreme”. In the cotton industry common practice was to shut down factories for the part of the year when the cotton crop was out of season. It was Zhang who broke the rule, using the slack season to purchase soybeans and peanuts to process food oil. This earned him extra profits that allowed him to expand his cotton business, even during an extended downturn between 1993 and 1997. In September 2003 Weiqiao Textile listed in Hong Kong, raising HK$3 billion, and by the end of 2004 group sales had reached Rmb23 billion, with exports up 71% year-on-year. Weiqiao had become a major player not only in the domestic market, but also globally.
Trade tensions grew with the US as Chinese textile exports surged, and in 2005 Beijing agreed to restrictions limiting volumes. Europe pushed for a similar deal. Facing tough international markets, Zhang expanded downstream into printing and dyeing. He also built an aluminium plant and Weiqiao has gone on to become the largest private aluminium products maker in China. In 2011 the group split it off from the textile business and listed it in Hong Kong, raising HK$40 billion.
By the end of 2011, the sales of Weiqiao Group had reached Rmb160 billion. As the biggest shareholder, Zhang Shiping ranked 19 on the 2011 Hurun Rich List with Rmb30 billion in assets.
Need to know
Weiqiao Group is now challenging State Grid in the power sector in Shandong province (see our Energy and Resources article). Zhang Shiping told media that he has been forced to produce his own electricity because of the high prices charged by the state-owned giant.
Another reason? There have been so many power cuts that Zhang says that he “can’t stand it any longer”.
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