If his romantic aspirations are anything to go by, William Wang, the 71 year-old tycoon behind outdoor furniture maker AGIO, is a businessman that won’t give up easily.
Wang has been an admirer of Chinese actress Liu Xiaoqing since she was 36. Following 20 years of courtship (and three failed marriages for Liu), Wang finally got her to the altar last month. Their wedding in San Francisco thrust Wang into the spotlight in China, especially for those curious about his personal net worth.
Wang was born to a military family of the Nationalist Party. Following the Guomindang’s defeat in 1949, his father, a major general, fled to Taiwan. A 9 year-old Wang was left behind.
A background in the Kuomintang didn’t promise much during the days of bitter class struggle. Wang says his only pleasant memory was serving as a poster writer during the Cultural Revolution because his calligraphy was good.
When he was 40 Wang travelled to the US and met other members of his family again. Feeling guilty, his parents offered him financial support and Wang took over some of the family businesses. In 1989, now a naturalised American citizen, Wang started a furniture business in Shunde in Guangdong province with his brother Oliver. Most of his customer base was American.
By that time, his Taiwanese connections had turned into more of a positive as mainland officials were embracing businessmen from the island. Wang became a full member of the China People’s Political Consultative Conference, while taking up key posts in various associations promoting cross-Strait business ties.
In an interview with the People’s Daily in 2007, the Wang brothers said their furniture business has been growing at an annual rate of 150% to 200% for more than 10 years, and the firm had opened a new manufacturing plant every year for a decade. Big AGIO customers included Home Depot and Walmart.
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Hurt by the global credit crisis in 2008, the Wang brothers began targeting the domestic market in China, as well as venturing into the hotel industry. With more competition in the mainland market, AGIO may go public in Taiwan, the China Times said.
Meanwhile, his profile in mainland China has never been higher thanks to his marriage. His wife became a household name among Chinese in the 1980s when she played the younger incarnation of the ruthless Empress Dowager Cixi in The Burning of the Imperial Palace and its movie sequel Reign Behind the Curtain. Liu’s most recent movie came out in 2004, although by this point more of her time was being spent as a businesswoman. Her autobiography is entitled From Movie Star to Billionaire.
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