Romantic businessman who loves poetry

Updated: 2012-07-12 07:59

By Mei Jia (China Daily)

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 Romantic businessman who loves poetry

Zhongkun Plaza at Dazhongsi, in Haidian district, Beijing, on Wednesday. Zhongkun Investment Group invested 3.5 billion yuan ($553 million) to build the plaza. Wang Jing / China Daily

 Romantic businessman who loves poetry

The headquarters of Zhongkun Investment Group in Beijing. Provided to China Daily

Romantic businessman who loves poetry

He's a mountaineer and writer who sees these attributes as good for entrepreneurship

As a controversial overseas land acquisition by a Chinese businessman comes to a close in the coming weeks, Huang Nubo, the man behind it, is again in the spotlight.

The 56-year-old chairman of Beijing-based Zhongkun Investment Group is preparing for the final signing of the lease on Icelandic land he originally intended to buy in the country's northeast areas. Meanwhile, Huang's latest Pu'er project in southwestern China's Yunnan province is right on track, with his teams of experts conducting further surveys and planning there.

Huang impressed many as a businessman who writes poems, or a poet who works in business. As Wei Xiaoan, an expert in tourist economics with the China Tourism Academy, puts it: "Huang is a rare combination of poetic romanticism and a merchant's aggressiveness plus shrewdness."

As for Huang, he said: "It's my poet's identity that separates me from the other businessmen and offers me insights into chances others tend to ignore."

Huang, although big in stature with a height of 192 centimeters, reveals a gentle smile when talking about his literary creations.

Like all passionate poets, he hides no outflow of emotions, such as anger when he was refused permission to buy the land he coveted by the Icelandic Interior Ministry in November and also confidence and satisfaction when a new deal was struck in May.

Under the pen name of Luo Ying, Huang has written a number of poems since he was 13. They were published in poetry collections including 7+2 Mountain-Climbing Diaries, Little Rabbit and The Ninth Night, and translated into other languages.

In his artistically decorated office, also the home to several Scottish tapestries and even a small shark, Huang tells the story about being laughed at seven years ago when telling a crowd of real estate investors that he's actually a poet.

But to the majority of Icelanders who supported his land deal - 60 percent according to a poll by Icelandic media last year - they know him first as a poet and then a sponsor of international poetry exchanges.

Huang says that in Iceland, the country where reading and writing are so valued that even policemen and prisoners write poems, he gained fast access into its social networks.

He also has old acquaintances in literary circles there. One of his college roommates back in Peking University in the 1970s is the Icelandic translator of Chinese classics Hjorleifur Sveinbjornsson, who considers Huang to be a spiritual guy and "very kind and considerate from the start".

"I went to Iceland for a poets' forum and was overwhelmed by the natural beauty there, seen through my poet's eyes," Huang said.

Huang's poet's insight is, indeed, a business foresight.

In 1997, two years after he founded Zhongkun, he decided to invest in Hongcun village, at the foot of Anhui province's world-famed Huangshan Mountain, although his team members opposed the deal, seeing no potential there.

"Others saw a tumbled and ruined village. I saw the rudiments of the idyllic life that urban residents must long for," Huang said.

The Hongcun village project was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002 and brings in 30 million yuan ($4.7 million) profit every year, he said. It is an example of his skill in developing a tourist destination combined with real estate value.

He believes he brought wealth to the local villagers as well, elevating some of the families from earning 800 yuan a year to tens and hundreds of thousands of yuan.

The same success was repeated in his projects in southern Xinjiang and he has similar hopes for the future Pu'er. Regarding Xinjiang, he jokingly says he put in 1.4 billion yuan investment there driven by alcoholic zeal after he met the local people: and really enjoyed drinking with them.

"He was very wise to change his strategy in 2003 from residential real estate to travel and recreation," said Yao Chen, an employee with Zhongkun group. "His vision enables him to look beyond reality and skip the risk of many businessmen's eagerness for a quick return."

Huang even started brewing his own wine in 2009, before the country was caught by the increasingly heated craze for the beverage, according to Yao.

First driven by a poet's passion and inspiration, Huang carefully backs every one of his steps with expertise and surveys.

Upon visiting Pu'er's tea gardens to investigate possible investment in April and seeing the tea collectors in their ethnic attire, Huang said it would be really good if he could have a "naked golf" course there, in harmony with nature and with the caddies in service in traditional costumes.

For the project on 60 square kilometers of land in the Pu'er region, he invited and traveled with dozens of experts, Chinese and foreign, to examine and plan a high-end resort with golf, an airport and recreational-vehicle parks, connecting tourism resources with Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

The resort revolves around the notions of being green and environmentally friendly. Pu'er preserved its natural resources in recent decades, shutting down logging factories and refusing to develop mining in the name of environmentally unfriendly economic growth. He will definitely bring a big focus on the colorful ethnic culture.

"Looking back, almost all the great profits I gained are driven by my understanding and appreciation of culture," Huang said.

"Thus Huang's business model is more like a poet traveling and visiting places for, and driven by, literary inspiration," GQ magazine writer Liu Zichao wrote in a profile of Huang.

Before becoming known as the businessman buying a chunk of Iceland, Huang was something of a tough guy from the country's northwestern highlands.

Born in Lanzhou, Gansu province, Huang was brought up without his father, who died during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). Hunger and adversity were "friends" with him. Young Huang could only find peace and consolation in the embrace of the mountains, he said.

He learned to be strong-minded and graceful from those years. Then he entered Peking University as a Chinese literature major. After graduation, he joined the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and soon became a promising politician. Then he quit and tried the publishing business.

"Like many others of my generation, I saw new opportunity brought by the reform and opening-up, so I started my own company, Zhongkun," Huang said.

During the stir he caused over the Icelandic land deal, Huang explained and told his personal story repeatedly to Western media and audiences - about how a former official turned into the owner of a private company and launched a successful career.

Huang believes his personal story, representing a Chinese generation, was unfamiliar to the West, but "that helps greatly for them to understand China better".

"Thus I eased doubts and promoted mutual understanding," he said.

Huang used to be a short-tempered boss who was strict with both himself and his partners.

His rough edges have been gradually softened by time and by his mountain climbing.

"I gained patience and peace out of the challenges," Huang said. From 2008 to 2011, Huang has conquered seven peaks in seven continents and visited the North and South Poles.

"Even the air around him changed a little bit," said Wang Shi, another mountain-climbing business tycoon.

Huang said the patience and tenacity helped in his recent projects. "Sometimes I had nothing to do but to wait, and I waited patiently. Then the good news came."

Although he has been described by the Icelandic Ambassador to China Kristin Arnadottir as a "one of a kind" poetic investor, Huang also faced jibes at home from a few that he was creating promotional hype, and a belief that his business operations had problems.

"Huang might be spreading himself too thinly. I don't know if he'll find it easy or not shuffling so many projects at a time," said Cheng Dong, from a Beijing-based consulting company.

In answer to that, Huang said he knows who he is and what he is doing.

He says he's operating Pu'er and Iceland in different ways. For Pu'er, he is attempting to lead several investments with other investors.

Huang hopes the huge fund flow that the Pu'er project will bring in will be a great spur for the Icelandic one. He sees the two as mutually beneficial.

Huang said that ideally, the Icelandic resort will start welcoming guests in five years.

His romanticism extends into his plans for Iceland: He is also assessing the possibility of trading his wine for "unforgettably delicious" sea shrimps there.

"But I'll wait for news from the Icelanders," Huang said. "I heard they're seriously proving that there are no little fairies living under the land I'm to rent."

(China Daily 07/12/2012 page16)