Both Forbes and Hurun have ranked Country Garden’s controlling shareholder Yang Huiyan as China’s richest woman. But it is her father, Yeung Kwok-keung, who has guided the family-run property firm to its huge success (he is pictured bottom right in the family photo).
To begin with
Yeung was born in 1954 to a family in Guangdong’s Shunde district. Company folklore claims he didn’t get his first pair of shoes until he was 17. With little formal education, he joined a county-level construction firm in his twenties, working his way up to become the general manager in the early 1990s. Faced with its closure by the local government, Yeung took the firm private. Soon afterwards his major client, a developer, went bankrupt. Yeung opted to take on the residential project himself. An accidental developer, he founded Country Garden.
In the 1990s Shunde was a lesser developed part of the Pearl River Delta and Country Garden’s residential projects struggled to find buyers. Of its first 4,000 units, only three were sold. Yeung allocated a plot of land to build a high school and packaged it as “a college for the elite”. The idea worked, attracting wealthier parents to relocate to Shunde. The experience came to define Country Garden’s philosophy. Yeung would pick up large plots of land that seemed of little value to most property firms. This kept his land costs below his competitors, and meant he was able to “sell luxury mansions at cabbage prices”.
In 2007 Country Garden went public in Hong Kong. By then Yeung has transferred his shareholding to his daughter Huiyan, whom he had encouraged to take over his empire. She is still its biggest shareholder with a stake of over 50%, even after the sale of a 9.9% stake last year to Ping An, one of China’s biggest insurers. Forbes estimates Yang [the Pinyin spelling of Yeung] and her family is worth $5.2 billion as of March 2016.
Need to know
Yeung has close ties to another Shunde native Lee Shau-kee, the chairman of Henderson Land and one of Hong Kong’s richest property tycoons. Henderson Land was a major pre-IPO investor in Country Garden. And in its largest project outside China Country Garden is partnering with a unit of the Malaysian government to develop Forest City, a $36 billion residential project on four man-made islands near the border with Singapore. Construction began this month.
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