THE IM­POR­TANCE OF BE­ING SEEN IN CHINA

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - The Brief - STORY PEGGY SITO AND EU­GENE TANG

Guo reck­ons he spends about a week out of ev­ery month in his Shang­hai home base, where the 36th floor chair­man's of­fice of­fers a panoramic view of the Huangpu River, which cuts Shang­hai into halves be­tween Pudong and Puxi. The Shang­hai Bund, which harks back to the city's glory days in the 1920s as the Paris of the East, lies at his feet.

Fo­sun's head of­fice, called The Bund Fi­nance Cen­ter, is a new fi­nan­cial quar­ter built near the water­front of Shang­hai's old town. De­signed by Bri­tish ar­chi­tec­tural firms, Fos­ter + Part­ners and Heather­wick Stu­dio, the 420,000 square me­tre de­vel­op­ment in­cludes two 180-me­ter-high landmark tow­ers, con­tain­ing of­fices, a bou­tique ho­tel, re­tail spa­ces.

Fo­sun Foun­da­tion is the cen­tre­piece of the Bund Fi­nance Cen­ter. In­spired by tra­di­tional Chi­nese the­atres, the three-story build­ing fea­tures a cur­tain-like fa­cade of bronze tubes that re­sem­ble bam­boo. Th­ese tubes hang in three lay­ers, cre­at­ing semi-trans­par­ent screens in front of win­dows and bal­conies.

“It's taken us 25 years to move a kilo­me­ter from where we be­gan,” Guo said. When you are the chair­man of a ma­jor Chi­nese listed com­pany, there is a value in be­ing vis­i­ble.

On the day of Guo's first interview with The Peak, the share price of his flag­ship unit Shang­hai Fo­sun Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Group Co. tum­bled al­most nine per cent in Shang­hai, and seven per cent in Hong Kong.

Word had got­ten around on China's online chat groups and me­dia that Guo was un­reach­able. To Chi­nese readers, in­vestors and pun­ters, that's a eu­phemism for the govern­ment de­tain­ing some­body for in­ves­ti­ga­tion, typ­i­cally in con­nec­tion with some fi­nan­cial mis­de­meanors or crimes.

Even though Guo is a pri­vate en­tre­pre­neur, and not a govern­ment ap­pointee, bu­reau­crat or Com­mu­nist Party cadre, in­vestors were re­minded of the time in De­cem­ber 2015 when Guo was out of the public eye for a few days to help with what his com­mu­ni­ca­tions peo­ple later de­scribed as “fi­nan­cial ju­di­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tions”.

This time, Guo was un­reach­able be­cause he was stuck in the Shaanxi pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal of Xi'an, where he had been de­liv­er­ing a speech on behalf of Zhe­jiang busi­ness­men to the lo­cal cham­ber of com­merce. As his pri­vate jet was un­der main­te­nance, Guo had to fly commercial and sub­ject him­self to the va­garies of Chi­nese air traf­fic con­trol. In­clement weather had grounded his flight, de­lay­ing his re­turn to Shang­hai.

The first thing he did when he fi­nally re­turned to Shang­hai was to get on a con­fer­ence call or­ga­nized by UBS Ag/hong Kong, which had man­aged a HK$1.78 bil­lion stock of­fer by Fo­sun Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in March 2014. On the call, which was streamed live to more than 1,000 lis­ten­ers, UBS' an­a­lyst An­gus Chan asked if he Guo was al­right. “Thank you for ev­ery­body's con­cern, I'm well and fine,” Guo said.

He also promised an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ret­ri­bu­tion for who­ever was spread­ing ru­mours to hurt his com­pany's fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests. It turned out that a Zhe­jiang-based provider of fi­nan­cial data and stock trad­ing plat­form had re­cy­cled the De­cem­ber 2015 news re­port of Guo's in­ves­ti­ga­tion as fresh news in July, caus­ing panic among Fo­sun's share­hold­ers.

“In­ves­ti­ga­tors found that ... staff from Hi­think's fi­nan­cial news out­let pub­lished a break­ing news re­port that Guo was miss­ing with­out tak­ing no­tice that this piece of news, orig­i­nally from an­other me­dia web­site, dated back to De­cem­ber 2015,” the China Se­cu­ri­ties Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion said on July 21. The reg­u­la­tor fined Hi­think 200,000 yuan for spread­ing mis­lead­ing mar­ket-sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion.

Fo­sun Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal's share prices re­cov­ered in Shang­hai and Hong Kong. What the episode il­lus­trated was just how in­te­gral Guo's well­be­ing and where­abouts are tied to his sprawl­ing busi­ness em­pire.

In the weeks since the July mis­cue, Guo has taken to China's so­cial me­dia to broad­cast his mus­ings while he's on the road, blog­ging while vis­it­ing Fo­sun's over­seas busi­nesses.

Guo still takes a hands-on ap­proach to run­ning his com­pany. Word has it that no in­vest­ment or ac­qui­si­tion, re­gard­less the amount, ever goes ahead with­out the chair­man sign­ing off.

“It's not a mat­ter of the mon­e­tary sum, but a mat­ter of the team re­spon­si­ble for it,” Guo says. “If it's some­thing that's be­ing han­dled by some­body I trust, and it's a team that has had a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence ex­e­cut­ing deals, like [Fo­sun Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal's co-chair­man] Chen Qiyu, that's prob­a­bly some­thing that I can take a rel­a­tively light touch,” he said.

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