In Chinese the term for crony capitalism translates literally as ‘skirt-band capitalism’. And tying the knot with the right woman, according to the media, appears to be integral to the business success of Anbang’s chairman Wu Xiaohui.
Wu was born in 1966 on the outskirts of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province. Details about his early life are scarce. He has yet to give a media interview (and we couldn’t find a photo of him from our agencies) but Southern Weekend has described him as having a ‘good look’ and ‘conversational skills that make people like him’. Initially he married the daughter of a local official and started as a low-level bureaucrat in Pinyang’s commercial bureau. Wu then went to Wenzhou and found work in a local restaurant. He there met his second wife, the daughter of Lu Wenge, a Communist Party official who had been the mayor of Hangzhou and then vice governor of Zhejiang. This introduced him to some of the business clans in some of China’s richest regions including Ningbo, Zhejiang and Shanghai. In 1996 he started an auto dealership in Zhejiang and quickly became the biggest distributor for SAIC. The same state firm would become one of the earliest shareholders of Anbang when the insurer was registered in Ningbo eight years later.
In the meantime Wu launched an infrastructure firm in Shanghai, where he met Chen Xiaolu, the son of Chen Yi, once an army marshal and the former mayor of Shanghai. Chen junior and Wu became business partners, co-founding Anbang in 2004.
Wu’s second marriage ended that year too. By then he had got to know Zhuo Lian, the granddaughter of a certain Deng Xiaoping. She later became his third wife. “Someone from Beijing came to Pinyang to investigate Wu’s background with our county’s Party boss. That was when we knew that Wu Xiaohui’s identity had changed again,” a Pinyang local told Southern Weekend.
Anbang was launched with Rmb500 million ($80 million) in registered capital but two private financing rounds beefed it up to Rmb62 billion by 2014, a larger capital base than China Life, the biggest state-owned insurance company.
Citing senior sources, Caixin Weekly reported last year that the “husband-and-wife relations between Wu and Zhuo have ceased”. But that doesn’t seem to have affected Anbang’s breakneck growth. Famous hotels seem to be a prized target, after it snapped up New York’s Waldorf Astoria in 2014 for $2 billion, and splashed $6.5 billion on Strategic Hotels & Resorts this year. In the most recent of Wu’s high-profile deals, Anbang has engaged in a bidding war with Marriott International over Starwood Hotels & Resorts. As of this week Anbang had raised its offer to $14 billion.
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Caixin Weekly says Wu is a workaholic and expects his staff to share the same work ethic. “He likes to have breakfast with clients at seven o’clock in the morning and often stays in the office until 2am to 3am,” the magazine reports. “It is not uncommon [for Wu] to have meetings at the weekend and staff who dare to take leave will get sacked right away.”
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