Lu Guanqiu, one of China’s most successful business pioneers, died at age 72 Wednesday. The billionaire chairman of Wanxiang Group emerged during the post-Mao era and was described as an iconic first-generation mainland entrepreneur by Xinhua news agency.
Lu had to drop out from school at 15. He started his career fixing bikes and later taught himself to be an auto engineer. He set up Wanxiang in 1969. In 1984, the company was the first Chinese auto parts maker to have cracked open the US market.
Wanxiang is now one of the world’s biggest car parts makers, and the largest in China.
Lu appeared on the cover of US Newsweek in 1991, the second Chinese after Deng Xiaoping. Back then, Alibaba founder Jack Ma was still an English teacher, while Fosun founder Guo Guangchang was a student at Fudan University. Like Lu, both Ma and Guo came from Zhejiang province.
Under Wanxiang, there are four listed companies in China. Lu was ranked 21st in Forbes China Billionaires List with a fortune of 40.8 billion yuan.
He was the richest man in China’s auto industry, followed by Great Wall chairman Wei Jianjun (36.9 billion yuan) and Geely founder Li Shufu (35.8 billion yuan).
It’s reported that Lu bought a Tesla Model S in 2014, and was so impressed and decided to build one himself.
“I’ll put every cent that Wanxiang earns into making electric vehicles,” he said in an interview in 2014. “I’ll burn as much cash as it takes to succeed, or until Wanxiang goes bust. If I do not succeed, my son and my grandson will carry on.”
He bought Fisker Automotive Holdings and its battery supplier A123 Systems to fulfill his electric car dream.
While Lu was a self-made engineer and entrepreneur who built his empire almost from scratch, 46-year-old Elon Musk has a doctorate degree from Stanford University and benefited from the deep industrial and information technology in the US.
Lu wasn’t able to create something to rival Tesla, but perhaps building on the foundation laid down by him, major local brands like Geely and BYD can one day challenge Tesla.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 27
Translation by Julie Zhu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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