With a war chest of $ 18 billion, he is one of the richest investors in China. However, on a recent trip to San Francisco, Zhang Lei and his entourage crammed into a three bedroom house in the Mission District, rented through Airbnb.
Also ordered water Instacart the delivery service a la carte food. A few days later in New York, bought food through Google Express.
Of course, it's not as if he could not afford luxury hotels and restaurants. Instead, he was research. Zhang just wanted to get to know some of the businesses that someday could invest.
From 10 years ago with $ 20 million endowment Yale University, Mr. Zhang was an early companies like Tencent and JD.com, companies that have shaken the traditional industries across China backing. Now he thinks that these companies could shake things globally.
"China could be one of the engines of all this global revolution of innovation," Zhang said in an interview in Hong Kong office of signature, Hillhouse Capital Group, one of the tallest skyscrapers in the city, with panoramic views Victoria Harbour.
Across the ocean, in Silicon Valley, Mr. Zhang represents new business class in China. He has consulted the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, and has visited the start-ups like Airbnb.
For foreigners, Hillhouse is a company run by a mysterious private man who went on to win the gold from the beginning. In its investors - including the allocations for the prestigious universities like MIT and Yale, sovereign funds, and wealthy businessmen - who seems incapable of making a bad bet. But as China's economy makes a series of bumps in the economic road, his next series of investments could define his legacy.
The firm says little about its investors or investment history, noting only that clings to investments for long stretches. An investor said Hillhouse had become an annual average of 39 percent since it was founded in 2005.
With bulging coffers, Mr. Zhang and Hillhouse are looking to the United States in search of opportunities.
In its most recent agreement, Hillhouse associated with May bring one of the most popular health institutions from the US to China Clinic. Zhang hopes to shatter the health care system of the rickety state, which is in dire need of a turnaround, using modern technology to create new services and products, as a system for managing digital records.
But challenges await Zhang. The corruption in health care abounds China; bribery investigations have trapped Western companies such as GlaxoSmithKline. State hospitals are burdened by bureaucracy. And the demand for geriatric services has skyrocketed.
Zhang said that falls short.
A man with glasses and energetic with an occasional behavior hiding his wealth, Mr. Zhang has an unusual background. Born in 1972 in Zhumadian, Henan Province, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, when China was purging itself of all things even remotely capitalist. He came of age as their country is adopting capitalist reforms.
At 7, Mr. Zhang had his first business idea. He rented his comic books passengers waiting for their trains. Today, this concept-based economy is shared for companies of Silicon Valley as Uber and Airbnb.
His other ideas sighted were not always greeted with enthusiasm. Not long after getting a scholarship to the Yale School of Management in 1999, Mr. Zhang began applying for jobs on Wall Street. Nobody asked again. An interviewer went so far as to question his intellectual capacity when Mr. Zhang asked if there was any point in the service stations.
His break came when Yale endowment took it as an intern. It was an unconventional arrangement. The office does not usually take MBA students as interns, but Mr. Zhang was impressed by David F. Swensen, CEO of investment.
"Almost immediately, Lei was exceptional in that he really had great ideas," said Dean Takahashi, senior director of the Yale endowment, adding that Mr. Zhang was able to identify what was going to be a big deal. He was also an avid networker, introducing successful Chinese entrepreneurs through Hillhouse Club, which he founded on the campus of Yale University and the name of Hillhouse Avenue, where some of his classes were held.
"It was like, why in the world does this guy from China have these ideas?" Takahashi said.
In the envelope, Mr. Zhang was sent to investigate industries such as logging and reporting back weeks later with inches thick. This tradition has been carried out in your company. The past analysts years researching before Hillhouse hit according to the Mayo Clinic.
After his first year at Yale, Mr. Zhang took time to investigate the expansion of the private sector in China, knocking on doors of entrepreneurs like Jack Ma of Alibaba, Robin Li of Baidu and Tencent Pony Ma, and cultivate friendships. He returned to the United States after the explosion of the Internet bubble in 2001.
Four years later, with an MBA in hand, he persuaded Yale to give $ 20 million to invest in new ventures in China. His initial release met with hesitation. It was green, old fellow Yale endowment remember, so green he did not know who to hire. Zhang called on old friends. A friend declined the offer, but suggested his wife.
"I said? 'Really you're just going to dump me and sends his wife" Zhang said. The wife, Tracy Ma, is now the chief operating officer of Hillhouse and No. 2 in the firm.
Zhang still jokes about the early days. "When he started Hillhouse, I had this strange strategy and sounded distracted," he recalled. "That's why no one has invested in me other than Yale."
For Yale, which had $ 15 billion under management in 2005, was a relatively small stake in China and a young man manning thought showed a lot of potential.
One of the first betting Mr. Zhang was in Tencent; He bought the stock in 2005. At that time the company was best known for its messaging service QQ and worth less than US $ 2 billion. Today, Tencent is an internet giant worth nearly $ 180 billion.
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Looking back now I think, wow, Tencent was so cheap, "Zhang said. Hillhouse owning shares.
Other investments yielded returns knockout. In 2010, Hillhouse invested $ 255 million in JD.com. Four years later, the share was worth $ 3.9 billion in IPO JD.com. When Tencent paid $ 215 million for a 15 percent JD.com in 2014, Mr. Zhang was involved behind the scenes, according to two people involved in the agreement were not authorized to speak publicly.
Buy and hold strategy Hillhouse more than a private equity firm that a hedge fund. Investors are willing to lock up their money for long periods.
Zhang This gives scope for investing in private companies like Blue Moon, a producer of Chinese consumer goods. In 2006, when Mr. Zhang first met the husband and wife team who founded Blue Moon, they were selling liquid hand soap. He kept in touch. Several years later, they called to say they had created a new type of liquid detergent.
A light bulb went on. At that time, in 2010, most multinational companies were selling washing powder in China because they thought that consumers would pay more for liquid detergent. But Mr. Zhang believes they would, and persuaded Blue Moon to expand greatly in the liquid detergent, financing its expansion in exchange for a stake in the company.
Now, Mr. Zhang bet may be a multimillion brand to compete with the likes of the tide. Hillhouse has made similar bets on companies like Gree, now a leader in air conditioners worldwide manufacturer and Midea, electric appliance manufacturer.
"I'm seeing a survey of Chinese entrepreneurs who are able to update themselves relatively slow compared to multinational companies," Zhang said, adding that US companies can learn a thing or two from their Chinese counterparts, they have learned told skip traditional industries.
It is a skill that knows something about - not only in his jump from humble beginnings to millionaire status in a few years, but also his passion for daredevil sports. During a ski trip to Telluride, Colo., In February, he was to go down the steeper slopes in a straight line.
Investing in China, he said, "is not for the faint of heart" However, he added, the opportunities are enormous, "if you are open-minded and focus on the future of China."
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