Life lessons from China's richest tycoon

September 14, 2015 14:47
Wang Jianlin, who is now deemed to be the richest Chinese in the world, says it is important to learn as you go along. Photo: CNSA

What can we decode from the first article of China's richest tycoon, Wang Jianlin, as he began writing a weekly blog for HKEJ?

In his initial contribution Monday titled "Never stop even if you have reached the Yellow River", the chairman of Wanda Group told a story about his Wanda Plaza in Shenyang.

The title of the column is derived from a popular Chinese idiom which suggests that people should keep persevering to attain their ultimate goal.

Incidentally, Hong Kong's Li Ka-shing -- who has been dethroned by Wang as the richest Chinese in the world, according to the latest Hurun list -- has Cheung Kong, which means Yangtze River in the local Cantonese dialect, as his group flagship firm. 

Now coming back to Wang, he started his HKEJ column by noting that he had hired two commercial consultants to design a "walking street" in Shenyang Wanda Plaza and subsequently sold all the units at the property. Unfortunately no more than 5 percent of the tenants have had decent returns, prompting the distressed shopkeepers to launch a lawsuit against Wanda.

In the end, Wanda won the lawsuit. But Wang said he also wanted to win the hearts of the tenants. So he invited a second group of consultants to look into the problems at the commercial property.

The new consultants recommended that the walking street be covered with a canopy to shield people from rain and snow. Following the proposal, Wang spent a few millions to build the new structure. However, business continued to be sluggish.

A third consultant then suggested that the basement be connected to the upper floors with a few escalators. That was done, but the efforts were also in vain.

Later there was a suggestion about the tenant mix, and Wanda brought in a new set of tenants. Still, nothing seemed to work for about four years.

To settle the issue once and for all, top Wanda executives arrived at a conclusion that they should just eliminate and rebuild the project.

That meant Wanda would pay back a billion yuan to tenants, or about 150 percent of what they paid to the developer, and another half billion to clear the premises to pave way for redevelopment of the property.

It is doubtful how many real-estate developers in the world would voluntarily offer such proposal.

Now here comes the message from Wang’s story.

Please do not always think I have a creative proposal, or I just do it the right way and succeed, he tells people.

If I can sell a spicy noodle, and someone likes it, I can start a shop. And if it is successful, I can start a chain store.

When you open a chain store, you realize you need a new operating model and a team of talented professionals. If you cannot adjust your strategy, you may fail.

"Many people dream about entrepreneurship and success... But first, you need to be innovative and find out what you can offer to people that is different. Apart from that, quality does matter. You also need to be persistent and not be scared of failure – even a hundred failures," Wang wrote.

"I always said I would not be satisfied even if I reach the Yellow River and I would also not turn back even if I hit the South Wall. I will build a bridge and stairway to go across them."

One can get to promised places during the journey, but it is only through dogged perseverance that one can really attain ultimate success, says the mainland tycoon. 

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EJ Insight writer