SF Express – the Chinese version of Fedex – never advertises. The courier grows its reputation via word of mouth. Its founder Wang Wei refused all media interviews until 2011. Wang kept such a low profile that in 2010, Hong Kong’s Next magazine was so fascinated to find out more about the tycoon it sent an undercover reporter to work for SF Express in one of its high-pressure delivery teams for three months.
Wang was born in Shanghai in 1971 and moved to Hong Kong as a child. He founded SF Express in 1993 with around $13,000 borrowed from his father who once worked as a Russian interpreter for the People’s Liberation Army air force.
SF Express started with only six delivery men with a van – Wang himself included. As demands for cross-border express delivery services grew, Wang was actually among the earliest parallel traders that nowadays crowd and shuttle across the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border (such traders have been in the news lately for clearing Hong Kong supermarket shelves of foreign-made infant milk formula which they carry across the border, selling it at a premium).
While competing with cheaper fees and reliable deliveries, Wang aggressively leveraged on the tiny capital he had to expand. According to Next magazine, Wang collateralised the entire company to the Bank of China just for a $550,000 loan in 2005 to fund SF Express’ China expansion. It was risky but it worked and Wang has never looked back since.
The fortunes of SF Express began to take off with the boom in China’s e-commerce market. The courier even stunned competitors by acquiring two Boeing-757 jets in 2009. Revenue hit $1.5 billion in 2011, according to Forbes, which put Wang on China’s richest list in 2012 for the first time with a $1.2 billion net worth. In 2010, Wang acquired a luxury house in Kowloon Tong, a residential area where Hong Kong’s tycoons cluster, paying a record-breaking price. Only then did Hong Kong media realise this businessman has achieved such success in China at such a young age.
Need to know
Not only journalists are hunting for Wang. Reportedly private equity firms have put a Rmb500,000 bounty on him: for any middleman who can help arrange a dinner meeting with Wang.
But as competition intensifies, (both Fedex and UPS won licenses last October to start courier businesses in certain Chinese cities) SF Express is under increasing pressure to list (the state-run China Postal Express has obtained regulatory approval and could go public this year). It may not be a coincidence that Wang has been more eager to come into media limelight these days with an IPO likely beckoning.
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