25-year-old is China's Richest Woman

BY LEE HAN SHIH
Dec 12, 2008
*Special to asia!

Yang Huiyan of Country Garden Holdings Co. has supplanted the "wastepaper queen" as the richest woman in China.

 

Wasn’t it only a few months ago that Zhang Yin, founder of China’s largest paper recycling firm, was named the richest woman in the country? Well, she has now been replaced.

Following an initial public offering on the Hong Kong stock market in March, Zhang has been dethroned by a woman who has remained so low-key that only her family and friends know what she looks like.

If Yang Huiyan has her way, she will continue to remain unrecognised. After all, it is extremely difficult for a 25-year-old first-time mother who recently graduated from an American university to suddenly become known to the world as the person with a net worth of HK$70 billion (US$8.95 bil). This would make her richer than Zhang (HK$26 billion), as well as the late Nina Wang (HK$40 billion).

Yang is the second of three daughters of Yeung Kwok-keun, the 52-year-old founder of Country Garden Holdings Co, China’s fifth-largest and most profitable developer. In an unusual move, Yeung has given nearly 60% of the company to his daughter. He has only retained the post of chairman, drawing a relatively modest annual salary of HK$1.64 million.

Yeung is Cantonese, from the province of Guangdong, a place that produces the largest number of rich people in China. His company is involved in 27 projects in various parts of China, from Guangdong and Hunan to Liaoning and Inner Mongolia.

In the March IPO, Country Garden sold 2.4 billion shares, or 15% of the company. The sale, at the top end of the price range estimated, valued Country Garden at US$11 billion, making it the biggest IPO so far by a Chinese real estate developer.

The offering drew overwhelming response. Investors were optimistic about China's property market, where home sales jumped 22% a year in the decade through 2005. In Guangdong, where Country Garden has most of its projects, home prices surged 26% in 2005. Country Garden has a huge land bank and investors are betting it would continue to grow strongly despite recent attempts by central and provincial authorities to stem property speculation and limit the rise of home prices. That the company has high gearing (debt-to-equity ratio) has done little to stem their enthusiasm.

At 52, Yeung is considered too young to pass most of his assets to his daughter. But insiders said this is partly an effort by the balding, quiet man to redeem what he considered his greatest regret. Yeung (the Cantonese version of Yang) grew up dirt poor. He reportedly did not own a single pair of shoes until he was 17.

"The report was wrong. I was poor, but not all that poor. The truth is that I had never worn a new shirt before I was 18," he said.

When Yeung was struggling to make a living, first as a farmer, then as a contractor, his eldest daughter suffered a brain fever. She did not receive proper treatment because he did not have enough money to pay for it. Yeung has never forgiven himself for that. This helps to explain why he has decided to pass nearly all his assets to his second daughter, Yang, who is his personal assistant as well as a director of the company. Since the IPO, the father-and-daughter team has moved into high gear, diversifying  Country Garden into other areas, including setting up a string of international schools in their own developments.


 

lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.

 

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