While Sheng Faqiang stays in the office, his wife Wang Jing (pictured below) promotes their sports gear brand by climbing the world’s highest mountains. The couple are founders of Toread, China’s largest outdoor sports-gear maker by revenues.
Sheng was born in 1969 in Gansu’s Dunhuang. He graduated with a degree in surveying at the Central South University. Like many of the 1992 class (which coincided with the year that Deng Xiaoping made his fame Southern China Tour to promote market reforms) he would give up a stable government sinecure at the railway ministry to start his own firm. But his business making notebooks (the paper ones, not the PC variety) flopped. By then Sheng had met Wang, a waitress six years his junior. They soon married and in 1995 they bought a patent for portable tents for Rmb5,000 ($820) at a sportswear exhibition. They began selling the camping equipment in street markets. The husband-and-wife team would become today’s Toread.
In 1999 Sheng moved the firm to the outskirts of Beijing, registering its Chinese name as “Pathfinder”. The trademark, similar to a programme of space exploration at the time, raised awareness of Toread’s brand. Astute marketing helped too, with Toread a keen advocate for protecting the Tibetan antelope in the Kekexili Plateau. In 2004 it started to ramp up production and business took off.
It now operates more than 1,100 sales points nationwide, broadening out into a mainstream brand offering a wide range of outdoor clothing and equipment, and becoming one of the few domestic firms that compete with international labels such as Columbia Sportswear.
In 2009, Toread was one of the first batch of 28 companies to go public on Shenzhen’s Growth Enterprise Market.
It has a market capitalisation of Rmb6 billion, putting Sheng and Wang’s net worth at around Rmb2.7 billion.
Need to know
Wang sewed Toread’s tents herself and also drew the company’s logo in its early days. She moved away from daily operations in 2007 and has since become the only Chinese woman to reach all eight of the highest peaks on earth.
“A man should do something risky in his life. I think it applies to a woman as well,” she says.
She is now Toread’s public face and her adventures have helped in networking with other members of the business elite too. Vanke’s chairman Wang Shi, another enthusiastic climber, was Toread’s image ambassador in 2009.
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