Das Kapital isn’t much read in China these days. Yet among the country’s many tycoons Kam Yuen comes closest to resembling the “vampire-like” capitalists of Karl Marx’s description. That’s because his business success has truly fed on blood.
Born in 1962 the Beijing native grew up in the Chinese capital. He studied Japanese at the Beijing International Studies University and graduated in 1985. Learning Japanese was against his parents’ wishes, as they wanted him to become a doctor.
Ironically, Kam then developed a career in the healthcare industry. Initially he was assigned to work for state-owned Minmetals and was sent to Tokyo in the late 1980s.
“I was paid Rmb56 a month in the first year. The next year I got a raise to Rmb72, which stayed unchanged for five years,” he later told reporters.
The low wages spurred Kam to do more lucrative deals to support himself, and he started to trade on his own account. He found that Japanese hospitals were paying removal firms good money to dispose of older medical equipment – machinery which would have been considered respectably new in China. So he visited Japanese hospitals and convinced their administrators to let him take their unwanted equipment away. He then started selling it to Chinese hospitals.
As Kam’s business grew, more of the hospitals asked him to pay a fee for their unwanted equipment. Back then China didn’t allow free conversion of its currency so Kam had to find a way to generate more Japanese yen to pay for it. He began supplying Japanese temples with tombstones made of Chinese marble, which he managed to acquire at low cost.
The two-way arbitrage not only made Kam rich. It also built up his connections in the Chinese medical industry. In 1993, when a Beijing doctor asked him to help find machines to transfuse blood during operations, he founded Golden Meditech to develop China’s first transfusion products. His devices finally obtained the approval of the Chinese government in 2000 and Golden Meditech went public in Hong Kong in 2001.
In 2003 Meditech also invested in the first cord blood storage facility and the new unit, China Cord Blood, was listed in New York in 2009.
Kam’s 38% stake in Golden Meditech is worth nearly $160 million, although the takeover of China Cord Blood is set to make him considerably richer (see page 11).
Need to know
Kam is well-connected on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Chinese Foreign Minister Wan Yi is one of his college classmates, and when China Meditech floated its shares in Taiwan in 2011, Sean Lien, the son of Lien Chan, honorary chairman of the Kuomintang, also invested in the company.
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