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  • Home > News > Details
    Always sunny, in the rich man's world
    2015-02-16

    He did not expect to make a huge fortune but solar panel king Li Hejun now rules the Hurun Rich List for the Chinese mainland. Hu Yuanyuan and Cheng Yingqi report.

    For anyone keen on getting rich, Li Hejun has this brain-twisting advice: "If you want to make money, you need to stop thinking about making money."

    Li, 48, knows a thing or two about the subject, having just been named the richest man on the Chinese mainland.

    "When I fought to build my career I did not expect to make a huge fortune from it," Li said. "The money was just a bonus."

    The Hurun Global Rich List 2015 saw Li, with his fortune of 160 billion yuan ($25.6 billion), knock Jack Ma Yun, chairman of Alibaba Group, off the top spot to be recognized as the richest person on the mainland.

    The Hanergy Holding Group boss has seen his global ranking go up to No. 28 on the List, released on Feb 3.

    Li's ascent to the top of the List is all the more remarkable given how rapid it was. He ranked 83 on the Hurun Global Rich List in 2013, when his fortune was estimated to be 13 billion yuan. For his meteoric rise Li can thank canny foresight and a technology called thin film solar power, a kind of mobile energy in the photovoltaic industry.

    Li is board chairman and CEO of Beijing-based Hanergy Holding Group, the parent company of Hong Kong-listed Hanergy Thin Film Power. The stock price of Hanergy Thin Film has surged almost 250 percent since November 2013, and Li's fortune is now more than 10 times that a year back.

    Previously, because of the roller-coaster ride the mainland photovoltaic industry endured over the previous three years, investors were decidedly wary of thin film power, an emerging technology in the industry.

    The mainland photovoltaic industry emerged in 2002 and developed into the world's largest five years later, making immensely wealthy the likes of Shi Zhengrong, founder and former CEO of Suntech Power, one of the biggest mainland photovoltaic companies.

    Between 2007 and 2011, production continued to grow, but this resulted in overproduction of crystalline silicon solar cells.

    Because of anti-dumping policies in the US and the European Union that came into force in 2012, many mainland photovoltaic companies went bankrupt.

    But three years earlier Li had started to invest in the immature but cleaner thin-film solar cell technology, though with a much higher threshold for technology access.

    "Transforming the business was risky," Li said. "We budgeted 15 billion yuan for the solar energy project, but in the end I spent more than 40 billion yuan on it."

    Hanergy Holding, established in 1994, specialized in hydropower and wind power projects in its first 10 years, and accumulated 6 gigawatts of installed capacity of hydropower and 131 megawatts of installed capacity of wind power.

    With cash flow from installed hydroelectric stations and windmills, the company bought a variety of solar energy companies worldwide, including German battery producer Solibro and US thin film producers MiaSole, Global Solar Energy and Alta Devices.

    "I did not make those investments to make more money, because I already had enough money from the hydropower projects," Li recalled.

    "I decided to enter the solar energy field only because I believed the technology would change the world. For me, entrepreneurship is about having the guts to do what you want to do, but to do it at your peril."

    On the wall of Li's office in Beijing hang the carved 18 cultural codes of Hanergy, and top of the list is "changing the world with clean energy is our shared belief".

    With ever-growing energy efficiency, thin-film solar power now has application in architectural curtain walls, roof power generators and wearable devices, such as clothes, as well as tents.

    Dreams from his father

    The courage Li speaks of was no doubt inherited from his father, one of the earliest self-employed entrepreneurs on the mainland.

    Li recalled hearing a conversation between his parents in 1972, during the "cultural revolution"(1966-76), when people were routinely jailed for the crime of speculation, or any trading outside the planned economy.

    "My mother worried that my father would be arrested over his business dealings, but he told her to stop worrying because things would change one day.

    "That's another business philosophy I learned from my father: Keep your eye on the current and swim with it."

    Even though Li's father had been a successful mine owner in Guangdong province, the young Li was determined to start his own business when he graduated from Beijing Jiaotong University in 1988.

    He borrowed 50,000 yuan from a college professor to run a business with 17 partners. They sold toys and electronic devices in the tech hub of Zhongguancun in Beijing. They managed to amass nearly 80 million yuan in six years, and then bought a small hydropower station in Heyuan, Guangdong province, marking their entry into the power industry.

    A big breakthrough came in 2002 when Li won a tender to build six power plants in Yunnan province.

    However, he was not the only investor waiting to seize the opportunity, and no sooner had he and his company been awarded the contract than it was snatched away from them.

    The local government decided instead to award the contract to several State-owned companies, and Li sued the local development and reform commission.

    The case was settled when the local government awarded one of the six hydropower projects to Li's company, Jin'anqiao Hydropower Station, which has become the world's largest hydropower station operated by a private company. Apart from power, it generates more than 10 million yuan a day that go straight into Li's company bank account.

    Another of Hanergy's 18 cultural codes reads: The key for success is people, people and still people.

    "I am a hands-off guy. I trust my staff," said Li. And he appears to live up to his word as he paid just six visits to the Jin'anqiao Hydropower Station during its eight-year construction period.

    Hanergy also developed a dozen talent training programs targeting different levels of staff. According to a senior manager who took part in one of the elite programs, Li gives them a lecture each month.

    "He likes reading books, especially those about Chinese traditional culture. In the last lecture, he shared with us his understanding about a few books by Zhao Puchu, a late religious leader," said the senior manager who declined to be named.

    Besides, Hanergy staff pay just 0.01 yuan to have breakfast and lunch in their Beijing office canteens. The company's headquarters, located just beside the Olympic Forest Park, consists of three four-story buildings, all using its thin-film solar technology to produce electricity.

    "Now those facilities can produce 20 percent of the electricity we need. When the second-phase program finishes in the first half of 2015, we can totally rely on our own electricity," said Leon Liu, head of Hanergy's external communication department.

    Betting on success

    "Successful entrepreneurs take their chances," Li said. "But they are not simply gamblers; they always prepare for the worst possible outcomes."

    As Chinese companies rush into the crystalline silicon solar cell business, Li sees new opportunities in thin-film solar cells, or what he calls "mobile energy".

    "It's impossible to overlook the changes mobile Internet has made in people's lives. I reckon that mobile energy is the technology of the future."

    But even if shareholders set a lot of store in the future, that may not translate into profits here and now. The Financial Times of London reported that most of Hanergy Thin Film Power's products were sold to other companies under the same parent, Hanergy Holding Group.

    "We are running a whole industrial chain because at the moment very few companies anywhere in the world are in the thin-film solar business," Li said. With more than 2,000 patents at home and abroad, Hanergy has few competitors in the field, he said.

    The group will unveil five solar-energy cars in October, he said, the first mass-produced solar energy cars of their kind.

    "I reckon 90 percent of the effort you put into anything produces 10 per cent of your success, and that the very last 10 percent of effort produces 90 percent of your success. So wise entrepreneurs keep an eye on the current, have the courage to swim with it, and stick with it until it takes them where they want to go."

    Contact the writer at huyuanyuan@chinadaily.com.cn

    © Copyright 2017 Invest in Heyuan
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