Fosun Chairman Guo Guangchang would like you to call him a fellow student, even as he aims to take over the China market for middle class living.
He wanted his employees to call him George, recalling an episode in the post-merger integration of the Travelers Group with Citibank in 1998, when the Co-Chairmen Sandy Weill and Co-Chief Executive John Reed stood by the corporate headquarters every morning, shaking every employee’s hand as they walked in. It was an exercise that went on for a year.
“Call me Sandy” or “call me John”, they had supposedly urged. Guo took this anecdote as a lesson in how to deal with Americans.
However, the American employees at the New York office called him Guo Zong (Director Guo), language copied from Chinese officialdom that neither impressed the Shanghai-born businessman, nor was in line with his vision of entrepreneurship. “I started sending out office memos addressing everybody as tongxue (fellow classmates), and signing off myself as Guo tongxue,” he says. “That finally did the trick.”
Aside from studying business, Guo is an ardent student and practitioner of tai chi. He is repeatedly photographed in traditional tai chi garb. It’s more than mere appearances. Fosun’s Hong Kong office, located in the ICBC Tower on Garden Road, occupies some of the world’s most expensive commercial real estate. Even so, at least 800 square feet of space has been given over to a tai chi studio, adding about HK$200,000 to the company’s monthly rent. Fosun has one of these in every single one of its offices worldwide, where staff are encouraged to turn up early in the mornings for tai chi lessons.
On the wall are photos of Guo with some famous faces, including former US President Bill Clinton.
“Life in general is an endless process of learning,” Guo says. “We draw our inspiration from a number of successful businesses around the world: Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway for its long-term value investing, Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa for managing a successful empire in Asia, and from GE for its diversity of businesses.”
Guo, who turns 51 next February, appears to have taken all those business lessons to heart. The Fosun Group has grown over a quarter of a century from a real estate developer and drug maker into one of the country’s largest private conglomerates, in the process making Guo – one of five founding partners – one of China’s wealthiest businessmen. He is currently ranked number 22 on Forbes’ coveted (and dreaded) China Rich List.
From Buffet and Berkshire, Guo saw how cash-rich insurers could fund long-term equity investments. Fosun owns two insurance companies, including the US$78 million (HK$610 million) venture with Prudential Financial called Pramerica Fosun Life Insurance, Portugal’s largest insurer Fidelidade Cia de Seguros SA, acquired in 2014 for €1.04 billion (HK$9.6 billion), and a reinsurer called Peak Reinsurance.
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