meet Zhang Lei
Zhang Lei calls himself an entrepreneur who just happens to be an investor. often touted as a ‘mysterious’ silent investor, Zhang and his investment firm Hillhouse Capital have been early backers of internet successes such as JD.com and Tencent.
worth at least $6.5 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, 50-year-old Zhang represents the emerging Chinese billionaire entrepreneur class.
he had a humble beginning, starting his firm in 2005 with a $20 million endowment from his alma mater Yale University. while Hillhouse Capital now manages assets in excess of $69 billion, Zhang purposely avoids the limelight.
in a Financial Times interview, Zhang referenced a Chinese saying about how “fragrant plum and peach trees do not speak, yet the world finds a way to them”. at Yale, he learned the basics of finance simply by reading company annual reports.
now Zhang has diversified the business from investing purely in startups to pumping funds into the Chinese equity markets, especially battered stocks.
Zhang’s investment mantra is simple. ask basic questions to the people you are investing in. it will bring out perspectives new companies tend to miss. especially in the consumer internet space where companies often think short-term. Zhang invests in companies that have a ‘very’ long-term vision.
a value-investing proponent, Zhang takes after Warren Buffett's idea to ‘buy and hold’. unlike other investors who buy and sell for short-term gains, Zhang handholds investee firms from their baby steps to public listing and beyond. even as his first investment Tencent is listed, Zhang retains a stake in the conglomerate.
the startup zeal started young. as a child, Zhang was running a book rental business at a railway station. soon enough he expanded and began offering a bundled package of food and books. by the time he started college, he had made a net profit of $170.
a firm believer in China’s financial potential, Zhang discovered early on that there were abundant opportunities for wealth creation. at a time when Chinese internet startups were called ‘copycats’ of US entities, Zhang grabbed the chance to make big bets.
while persistence and team leader qualities are important for Zhang, he puts emphasis on empathy and the ability to connect with people, even his competitors. it’s how he chooses the entrepreneurs to back.
with his frugal lifestyle and deep field insights into each investee company, Zhang has created a niche for himself. as the billionaire investor expands by setting up a private fund for stock investments, Zhang’s market dominance continues.