After civil service, real estate, beverages, food and education, Chen Sheng is looking for stiffer challenges
You may be forgiven if you assume Chen Sheng, 53, a newly minted multi-billionaire, must be one of those super-successful Chinese Internet startup founders. But the chairman and president of Tiandi No 1 Beverage Inc believes newage businesses are not the only route to riches.
In fact, Chen swears by traditional industries. What’s more, he rides a variety of them: real estate, beverages, food. Wears other hats too: darling of the capital markets, potential investor in startups, public speaker, founder of an educational institution.
And to think he started his utterly fascinating career as a civil servant in hishometownZhanjiang, Guangdong province, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in economics from PekingUniversity in 1984.
A few years in civil service convinced Chen he is made to do and achieve different things in life. So, in early 1990s, he set up a real estate company in his hometown. It went on to become the market leader in the city’s real estate sector in just three years.
The diversification into the beverage business happened by chance.
“In 1997, a visiting central leader chose to mix Sprite (a lemon-flavored fizzy softdrink) with vinegar at a banquet in Guangdong. That formula became a rage. Sensing an opportunity, I decided to explore the market potential for a vinegar beverage,” said Chen.
Eighteen years on, Tiandi No.1 is now China’s largest vinegar beverage brand with a more than 40 percent market share. In his home province Guangdong, the drink commands an 80 percent market share.
On Aug 20 this year, the Guangdong-based Tiandi No 1 Beverage Inc listed on the National Equities Exchange and Quotations, also known as New Third Board, and its initial public offering raised 175 million yuan.
In October, the company issued additional shares to raise 625 million yuan more, pushing its market valuation to about 13 billion yuan, and the worth of Chen’s more than 80 percent stake in it past 10 billion yuan ($1.58 billion).
That put him just behind Wu Gang, president of JD Capital Co Ltd, an investment firm, among the founders of companies listed on the NewThird Board. Wu’s net worth is estimated at 18 billion yuan.
Why the New Third Board? “We want to raise more capital for mergers and acquisitions, especially at a strategic level,” said Chen.
According to Tiandi’s latest financial report, in the January-June period, the company’s revenue soared 99 percent year-on-year to 639 million yuan, yielding a net profit of 148 million yuan.
In2013and2014, revenuewas1.17 billion yuan and 1.13 billion yuan, and net profit was 314 million yuan and 253 million yuan, respectively.
But Chen isn’t just known for Tiandi’s financial success. He is the “king of pork” in Guangzhou. And that story began by chance as well.
In 2003, a television crewinXi’an found that a graduate named Lu Buxuan, also Chen’s university mate, sold pork in a local market for a living. Lu’s story was to stir the nation’s conscience.
“I also watched that piece of news on TV,” said Chen. That influenced his foray into pork, especially after he discovered the chaotic pork market presented a business opportunity.
1 Food Co Ltd to focus on research and development in domestic pigs, their rearing and pork sales at a time when imported pigs held sway.
“Since China’s reform and opening up, more and more foreign pigs were introduced into the country. Their popularity was at the expense of domestic breeds due to their lower cost. Also, you need shorter time to raise imported breeds. However, the qualityof domestic pork ismuch better, more tender and juicy,” said Chen.
He is confident history will repeat itself. There was a time when the Chinese largely consumed domestic pork. Now, with rising incomes and aspirations for high-quality life style, more and more people have the means to afford domestic pork. It’s only amatter of time before they rediscover their taste for Chinese pork. So, in just two years, Chen grew his pork business to a 200store chain with an annual revenue of 200 million yuan.
Chen also invited his fellow alumnus Lu as a guest teacher to the butchers school in Guangdong that he founded. “Lu designed a training course in pork sales. He has somuch