Feng Lun was born in Xi’an in Shaanxi province in 1959, joining the Communist Party when he was a student. After graduating from the Central Party School with a law degree, he spent time working in the central government until 1991, when he quit his job to create a company in Hainan with five friends and Rmb30,000 in capital.
The company was called Hainan High-Tech Agriculture Investment Corporation but there was little high-tech or agricultural about it. Instead it focused on real estate. Feng focused on distressed assets, persuading a trust and investment company to lend him Rmb5 million. With that, he got a Rmb13 million bank loan and used the combined proceeds to buy an unfinished villa project. He made a profit, creating the capital for further real estate investment.
Back to Beijing
In 1992, both Feng and Pan Shiyi, now of SOHO China but then one of the six partners, sensed a bubble building in Hainan property, with thousands of developers now active. So Feng decided to move elsewhere, setting up Vantone Group in Beijing. In 1993, Vantone bought an office project – New World Plaza – working with an experienced sales agency from Hong Kong to better manage the building. The project was a commercial hit and by 1994, Vantone was expanding into Nanning, Xi’an and Shenyang.
Vantone then diversified into finance, commerce and trading, even investing in films. When a slowdown and credit-crunch ensued, Vantone was in financial trouble. “Blindly expanding and diversifying were the biggest mistakes I’ve made,” Feng admitted in a speech in 2008. In 1996, the management group of six friends also broke up with Pan Shiyi and the other executives leaving the company.
“1996 was the year of reflecting,” Feng confessed later as Vantone sold non-core businesses to pay debts, choosing to focus once more on high-end residential property and commercial property management.
In 2007, Feng repackaged the real estate businesses into Vantone Real Estate for an IPO on the Shanghai market. By the end of last year, Vantone revenues were Rmb4.8 billion, up 35% on the year before.
Feng enjoys writing and published Savagely Growing in 2007, sharing his thoughts on how best to run a business. Three of his soundbites: “What is killing private companies in China isn’t competition, it’s the system”; “You learn more from your rivals than your masters”; and “Earning money is a skill, but spending it is an art”.
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