China's wealthiest man is not Pony Ma or Jack Ma

(Article originally published here)

TOKYO — Xu Jiayin, the chairman of property developer China Evergrande Group, has seized the top spot on the country’s rich list for the first time, leaving behind Pony Ma Huateng of Tencent Holdings and Jack Ma Yun of Alibaba Group Holding.

The ranking was released on Tuesday by Hurun Report.

Xu’s wealth climbed to $43 billion, a nearly fourfold increase from last year, when he finished 10th on the list, thanks to Evergrande’s surging shares. The company’s share price has risen nearly six times so far this year amid plans to cut debt and put profit ahead of scale.

Hurun Report put Pony Ma’s wealth at $37 billion, No. 2 on the list, followed by Jack Ma and his family’s worth of $30 billion. The IT giants have increased their value thanks to services like like Tencent’s WeChat and Alibaba’s Alipay.

Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma © Reuters

Among those new to the top 10 list are Li Shufu, chairman of automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, and his son Li Xingxing. The automobile company has stakes in Sweden’s Volvo Cars and recently bought nearly half of the outstanding shares in Malaysia’s Proton. The father’s and son’s wealth increased 3.6 times from last year to $16 billion.

Tencent CEO Pony Ma Huateng (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

The ranking also reflects how some major Chinese companies have buckled under the weight of debt or have been sanctioned for risky overseas investments.

Wang Jialing, chairman of property developer Dalian Wanda Group, sat at the top of last year’s list but this year is No. 5. His family’s wealth shrank 28% to $23 billion. This is the first time in five years for Wang to drop out of the top three. Wanda sold off many of its hotels to rivals this year after Chinese authorities required banks to scrutinize the highly leveraged company’s financial risks.

Dalian Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin, who took first spot for the last two years, slips to 5th.

Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun Report’s chairman and chief researcher, said, “This year we found more than 2,000 individuals with $300 million, double that of five years ago and four times that of 10 years ago.”

Their aggregated wealth came to $2.6 trillion — almost equivalent to the U.K.’s gross domestic product. 

Hurun Report was established in 1999 and is based in Shanghai. It is recognized as the foremost authority in tracking the rapid changes among China’s high net worth individuals.