NEWSMAKER-China's BYD boss in fast lane after Buffett buy
HONG KONG |
HONG KONG Nov 24 (Reuters) - Wang Chuanfu might aptly be called China's man of electric dreams.
The soft-spoken 43-year-old entrepreneur was zapped onto the world stage last year when his company, BYD Co Ltd (1211.HK), became the latest darling of U.S. billionaire investor Warren Buffet, who bought 10 percent of the electric car and battery maker.
The upward ride has been non-stop since then, with BYD's stock surging more than seven-fold over the last year, making Wang the richest man in China with a net worth of $5.8 billion, according to the latest ranking by Forbes magazine.
Wang started BYD in 1995 with money from a relative after leaving a government sector job where he worked as a researcher.
His company's name stands for "Build Your Dreams", according to its business cards, though Wang sometimes jokes that it really means "Bring You Dollars."
His somewhat geekish appearance and soft-spoken manner bespeak his humble roots. He grew up in interior China's Anhui province, where siblings raised him after his parents died when he was young.
"His interest is his work," said Henry Li, general manager of BYD's auto export trade division, at the Guangzhou Auto show in south China, where BYD's electric cars were on display but Wang himself was absent.
Wang, whose company made its mark selling batteries to the likes of Nokia (NOK1V.HE) and Motorola MOT.N and is now taking a plunge into electric cars, is a bit of a hybrid himself.
He blends the qualities of legendary former GE (GE.N) boss Jack Welch, known for his management prowess and grasp of his markets, and equally legendary inventor Thomas Edison, Li said.
Like Edison, who argued that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, Wang is also famous for his dedication to his work and seldom takes a day off.
He regularly eats in the company canteen and lives in a BYD-owned housing complex with his wife and daughter, according to previous interviews.
When he started out, he studiously examined other battery technologies on the market, dismantling rival products to see how they worked.
He also believes strongly in his products, so much so that Wang made headlines earlier this year by reportedly drinking battery fluid to show that his company's batteries are fully non-toxic.
"His work is his hobby," said Jasmine Huang, also in BYD's auto export trade division. "He isn't always at the office, but he's always thinking about his company."
Wang's entrepreneurship seems to have landed him in hot water, however, in the form of a long-running dispute between his company and a unit of Taiwan's electronics giant Hon Hai (2317.TW), which has accused BYD of infringing on its intellectual property. BYD denies any wrongdoing.
The company also came under scrutiny when Nokia announced earlier this month it was replacing 14 million BYD cellphone charges which it said could deliver an electric shock. [ID:nL9382553]
Some observers say the company, the world's largest mobile phone battery maker with 30 percent of the market, is built more on the hype of Warren Buffet's investment and the promise of electric cars that have yet to start commercial production.
Wang has said he wants to build BYD into the world's biggest car company by 2025.
"He is presentable and charismatic although he still has a distance to go from Apple's Steve Jobs," said an analyst who covers the company. "He has a sellable story, but whether he can deliver remains to be seen." (Additional reporting by Alison Leung and Don Durfee; Editing by Lincoln Feast) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; +852 2843-1631; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com)) ((If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org))
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