Inside China’s investment clubs
Some of China’s wealthiest people are banding together to use their money and local knowledge to invest in the country’s growth businesses. Little is known about these groups, their investments or their returns. Elliot Wilson shines a light on the underground investment culture, and asks what chance international private equity firms have of competing against local intelligence and power.
LI YING SITS down at the table and smiles. Her black hair hangs in little bangs, reminiscent of the Mad Men character Peggy Olson. First impressions mark her down as a slightly prim housewife but the eyes give her away – they crinkle at the edges knowingly. She engages with questions she wants to answer and bats away the rest. She doesn’t smoke, and doesn’t touch her sparkling water. It’s a damp Shanghai evening and we are taking shelter at an excruciatingly funky bar in a boutique hotel on the South Bund. However, she rebuffs the waiter’s suggestion of a glass of wine or some nibbles. Her facade never drops – this, behind the prim hair and penny-round glasses, is a formidable woman.
Li is one of a new generation of Chinese investors. She juggles a personal life (a husband, a son and a social life) with a full-time job – she won’t say what exactly but it is something to do with banking. And when she’s not doing that she dashes around mainland China looking for new, high-growth investment opportunities in which to channel capital from her $140 million private equity fund.