Wei Wenyuan was once the most high-profile person at China’s stock exchange – he was the official who struck the historic opening gong for the Shanghai market on December 19, 1990. But after relinquishing his regulatory role, Wei would go on to become one of China’s wealthiest men.
Born to a military family in Shanxi in 1955, Wei joined the army in Xinjiang when he was 15. He was demobilised five years later and went to work in a cinema in Shanghai before getting promoted to propaganda officer. When the universities were reopened after the Cultural Revolution, Wei was admitted to the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics.
Upon graduation he rejoined the government ranks. At 31, Wei became the director of the newly-established National Audit Office. He then joined the central bank’s Shanghai branch in 1989, leading the special task force that set up the Shanghai Stock Exchange in 1990, subsequently becoming the bourse’s first general manager.
Wei resigned in 1995 after a scandal in the bond futures market which brought down the country’s leading brokerage Wanguo Securities.
Resigning from his official roles proved to be a blessing in disguise for Wei. He soldiered on as a capitalist, earning his first fortune in 1996 by buying out the advertising spots on CCTV’s maiden movie channel for four years, and then reselling them as the channel became more popular.
Wei reinvested the profit in private equity deals and almost disappeared from the spotlight. Then suddenly he hit news headlines again in 2011, when he debuted on the Forbes Rich List with an estimated net worth of $1 billion. Much of that was due to a 10% stake in Sinovel Wind Group, a turbine maker that went public in Shanghai, setting a record for the highest per-share (Rmb90) IPO price. The stock has plummeted 93% since. But shareholders seem to be counting on Wei to revive the clean-tech firm, naming him as Sinovel’s new chairman this month.
Need to know
Wei likes to tell stories of how “crazy” he was in his early years. For example, in the late 1990s he says he hired two fleets of army-surplus tanks to flatten 150,000 square kilometres of mountainous terrain in the northeast. He doesn’t elaborate on why he did so, but if you meet him, it might be worth asking.
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