THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING SEEN IN CHINA
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.