It has been difficult for China’s private energy firms to compete head-to-head with the trio of state-controlled oil companies. But feasting on the breadcrumbs of the giants has still been enough to make Brightoil Petroleum’s chairman Sit Kwong Lam a billionaire.
Sit was born in Anhui in 1967. Besides having a doctoral degree in philosophy from the University of Nanjing, little is known about his upbringing. But like many of China’s rag-to-riches stories, Sit was one of the massive herd of moneyless young men drawn to Shenzhen in 1992 to try his luck. He had his first commercial success trading pagers. Just a year later and still only 26, Sit founded Brightoil. He was venturing into the energy business just as China was transitioning from being an oil exporter to a net importer of that commodity. In the beginning he focused on fringe downstream businesses, such as oil storage and the trading of petroleum products.
Gradually Sit built up his merchandising and sales network but his real breakthrough came in 1999 when Brightoil secured a strategic agreement with state behemoth CNPC to provide it with storage facilities and trading services in southern China.
In 2003 Sit was appointed as a political advisor to the Chinese legislature and his business career prospered as Brightoil was permitted to diversify further up the industry chain. It began operating petrol stations in 2005 and a year later it gained State Council approval to supply tax-free fuel to foreign vessels in Shenzhen.
In August 2008, braving a market battered by the global financial crisis, Brightoil went public in Hong Kong. The company’s market capitalisation has more than tripled since. Due to his 72% stake, Sit was ranked as China’s 61st richest man by Hurun last year, with a net worth of Rmb17.5 billion ($2.8 billion).
Brightoil now runs China’s biggest marine bunkering service but it has continued to move further upstream too. Last February it paid Anadarko Petroleum of Texas $1.1 billion for oil and gas assets in eastern China’s Bohai Bay.
Need to know
Sit says he sees new opportunities as formerly state-dominated fiefdoms like the oil industry are opened up to greater competition. “Why can’t China have its own John Rockefeller?” he asked the media in 2012, suggesting his own ambitions in the sector are far from complete.
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