SF Express — Wang Wei

Sep 16, 2016

Wang Wei
SF Express

SF Express – the Chinese version of Fedex – rarely advertises. The courier grows its reputation via word of mouth. Its founder Wang Wei refused all media interviews until 2011. Wang kept such a low profile that in 2010, Hong Kong’s Next magazine was so fascinated to find out more about the tycoon it sent an undercover reporter to work for SF Express for three months in one of its delivery teams.

Getting started

Wang was born in Shanghai in 1971 and moved to Hong Kong as a child. He founded SF Express in 1993 with around $13,000 borrowed from his father who once worked as a Russian interpreter for the People’s Liberation Army air force. SF Express started with only six delivery men and a van – Wang himself included. As demand for cross-border express delivery services grew, Wang was among the earliest parallel traders, earning profits by shuttling across the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border (such traders have been in the news in recent years for clearing Hong Kong supermarket shelves of foreign-made infant milk formula which they carry across the border, selling it at a premium on the mainland).

Big break

According to Next magazine, Wang collateralised the entire company to the Bank of China for a $550,000 loan in 2005 to fund SF Express’ China expansion. It was risky but it worked and Wang has never looked back since. The fortunes of SF Express began to really take off with the boom in China’s e-commerce market. The courier even stunned competitors by acquiring two Boeing-757 jets in 2009. In 2010, Wang acquired a luxury house in Kowloon Tong, a residential area where Hong Kong’s tycoons cluster, paying a record- breaking price. Only then did Hong Kong media realise this businessman had achieved such success in China at such a young age. Need to know It is not only journalists who took to hunting for Wang. Reportedly private equity firms once put a Rmb500,000 bounty on him: that figure would be paid to any middleman who could arrange a dinner meeting with Wang.

However, Wang finally brought in new investors in 2013 as SF sought funds to expand. China Merchants led a consortium of state-controlled firms that acquired a 24.5% stake in SF Express for Rmb8 billion. To defend its market share, SF plans to expand its fleet of 39 aircraft (20 on leases) to 100 by 2020. It is also building its own airport in Ezhou, a centrally located city near Wuhan. In May 2016, SF announced a backdoor listing in Shenzhen. The deal valued SF at around Rmb43 billion. Not bad for a man who started with just a single van 23 years earlier.

Key info

New Fortune magazine calculates Wang Wei’s net worth at Rmb25 billion.

Year born
1971

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