For most Chinese entrepreneurs the metal copper is often associated with unorthodox bank loans (see WiC103 for our first report on copper-backed trade finance). Wang Wenyin proves to be an exception. He has built the biggest privately-owned copper-wire business in China.
Wang was born in 1970 to a rural family in Anhui. After graduating from Nanjing University in 1989, he was given a job at a state petrochemical plant in Shanghai. Not content with a Rmb400 ($66) monthly salary, Wang went to Shenzhen in 1993 for a fresh start.
When months of unsuccessful job hunting reduced his net worth to Rmb10, Wang realised he had to restart from the very bottom. Eventually Wang joined a Japanese copper wire producer as a warehouse worker. His ability to memorise several thousands material codes impressed the bosses. Wang rose through the ranks quickly – seven promotions in one year – to become the sales manager.
Wang soon felt the glass ceiling. When his boss went against Wang’s decision to maintain ties with a client with a patchy credit at the Japanese firm was up. He founded his own plant in 1996 to produce electric wires. That venture would grow into today’s Amer.
At the beginning Wang worked and lived with his employees in the factory. Amer grew so quickly that Wang had to open a new plant each year to meet surging orders.
Wang has timed the boom and bust cycle well. After the 1997 Asian financial crisis Amer expanded into the copper cable market.
During the 2003 downturn, Amer capitalised on falling land prices to acquire bigger production bases in Shenzhen. It also expanded upstream by taking over smaller copper mines in the country. After the 2008 global credit crisis, Amer grew its international exposure too through the acquisition of copper firms in Europe and the US.
With more than 15,000 staff, Amer’s revenue in 2012 totalled $30 billion. But the low-profile Wang only shot to nationwide fame last year when Amer was named as one of the Fortune Top 500 firms, ranking 387th worldwide.
According to the Hurun Rich List, Wang’s net worth hit Rmb30 billion in 2013, largely thanks to his 99% stake in Amer. In comparison, Jianxi Copper, the biggest state-run copper firm, has a market value of around Rmb48 billion.
Need to know
Wang likes collecting antique Chinese furniture and uses them to furnish Amer’s Shenzhen headquarters.
He likes reading too.
Whenever Wang finds a good book, he orders several dozen copies, distributes them to his senior staffs, and then requires them to write book reviews.
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