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China-based Fuyao Glass Industry Group, whose U.S. plant was the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary “American Factory” in 2020, plans to raise to HK$4.3 billion, or $550 million, in a stock sale amid improvement in its business this year, according to a Hong Kong Stock Exchange filing on Sunday.

The glass supplier, whose auto industry customers include Toyota, Volkswagen, General Motors, Ford and Hyundai, plans to sell 101.1 million shares at HK$42.64, representing a fully diluted 3.9% stake.  Fuyao’s shares trade in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Fuyao expects that China’s automobile industry “will recover and rebound in 2021” compared with pandemic-hit 2020, the company said in the statement. “By using the funds raised from the placing in its working capital, debt repayment, research and development projects, photovoltaic glass market expansion and general corporate uses, the company may further expand its business and optimize its capital structure,” the statement said.  Fuyao, which generates nearly half of its sales from outside of China, also aims to “attract more international reputable investors with strategic value and improve (the) equity structure of the company.”  

Revenue last year fell by 5.7% to 19.9 billion yuan, or $3 billion; net profit declined by 10.3% to 2.6 billion yuan.  Operations recovered in the first quarter, however: operating revenue rose by 37% to 5.7 billion yuan and net profit increased by 86% to 855 million yuan.

China is the world’s No. 1 automobile market; auto sales in the country rose by 75% in the first quarter of 2021 to 6.5 million units. China also makes approximately 80% of the world’s solar panels; the country’s Xinyi Glass and First Glass Group are two of the world’s largest suppliers of photovoltaic glass. Fuyao, founded in 1987, said about 10% of  funds raised from its new stock sale would be used “to expand the photovoltaic glass market and general corporate uses.”

Fuyao’s U.S. factory is located in Moraine, Ohio. Besides China and the U.S., Fuyao has manufacturing sites in 10 other countries including Russia, Germany, Japan and South Korea; it employs more than 27,000 worldwide, according to the company’s website.

Fuyao’s chairman Cho Tak Wong has a fortune worth $4.3 billion today on the Forbes Real-Time Billionaires List.  His son Tso Fai is vice chairman.  Xinyi Solar’s main shareholder Lee Yin Yee has a fortune worth $4.9 billion and Flat Glass Chairman Ruan Lianghong’s is worth $4.9 billion.  

See related posts:

China’s Richest Man in Solar Talks About Falling Costs, Global Growth

China Holds Promise For Global Businesses Despite Uneven Recovery: Authors

Finding Wealth In China’s ‘Time Machines’: 2021 Forbes Midas List’s Jing Hong

@rflannerychina

It seemed like a ready China business-book hit: Juan Antonio Fernandez and Laurie Underwood, two business professors in China, last year updated their successful book from 2006 “China CEO” with a new look at how foreign companies have been faring in the country’s fast-growing economy. “China CEO II” highlights hiring, digitalization and consumer power through interviews with 25 leading multinationals including leaders from McKinsey, Microsoft, Bayer and Coca-Cola.  

Then Covid upended business globally. GDP contracted, work-from-home has become a global normal, Zoom meetings have been adopted by millions, and transportation has become disrupted. Hundreds of thousands have died, variants are still wreaking havoc from India to Brazil, and geopolitical tension has increased globally.

China’s economy has been something of an outlier. Business rebounded earlier than elsewhere owing to effective early control of the pandemic.  The country enjoyed 18% year-on-year growth in GDP in the first quarter, and IPOs from the country’s businesses have been snapped up globally.  

What’s ahead for multinational companies in China? To learn more, I exchanged in April with the two “China CEO II” authors.  Fernandez is a leadership professor at the China Europe International School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, and Underwood is a senior consultant at Sino Associates and adjunct professor with the Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, an international business school in Suzhou. The two have an audiobook version of “China CEO II” coming out in June. Excerpts follow.

Flannery: How has the business outlook for foreign companies changed in China since your book was published a year ago? What’s the impact of Covid-19 for foreign companies, and how are they adapting?

Underwood: Because China passed through the pandemic much more quickly than most of the rest of the world, the impact on businesses here has been vastly different. Generally speaking, foreign companies in China went from the initial disruption into a ‘new normal’ faster and more efficiently than counterparts outside China.

The new normal for MNCs in China post-Covid varies mainly based on industry. As in other countries, China’s e-commerce and delivery models flourished during lockdowns and then just continued booming. Covid fueled already strong ecommerce platforms and gave rise to new ones which identified underserved consumer segments. This helped retail and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) players who had already embraced digitization – especially those expanding into tier two and three cities, where consumer power is growing fast. MNCs which follow China’s massive e-commerce shopping days (11-11 and 6-18) and leverage trends such as livestreamed ecommerce using Chinese KOL ‘super sellers’ are flourishing. L’Oreal is an example of MNCs fully mastering China’s unique e-commerce ecosystem.

On the other hand, for MNCs that view China as one piece in their global supply chain and primarily consider China as a manufacturing site, Covid has caused more uncertainty. The pandemic, as well as poor trade relations with the U.S., has disrupted logistics and complicated customs and deliveries. Post-Covid, many international manufacturers in China who previously sourced internationally are now sourcing more from within itself China to reduce uncertainties.

Fernandez: China went into the pandemic with stronger economic growth than nearly any other nation, then quickly came out of the pandemic to see rebounding economic growth. Thus, China-based MNCs with a business strategy focused more on China have rebounded fastest. Both finance and technology came out stronger after the crisis, with growth of 6% and 13%, respectively. For the service sector, any MNCs in China focused on travel, hospitality or education all suffered the most.

Generally speaking, before Covid, many MNCs were racing to embrace and take part in China’s digitization. This trend has only increased in speed and scale post-pandemic. Foreign companies which were highly digitalized have had a milder impact from Covid.

Flannery: In the book, you note gains behind made by women in the C-suite over the years in China. Do you expect that to continue in the future? 

Underwood: The increase in women in C-suite positions is probably unstoppable in China at this point. The increase in female CEOs heading MNCs in China was one of the most encouraging trends we saw in the release of our new book in 2020 compared with the original book published in 2006. Women CEO interviewees were among the most impressive top executives in the book.

Turning back to the impact of Covid, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the professional advancement of women worldwide because women have disproportionately borne the brunt of family burdens caused by school closures as well as more often facing job cutbacks or loss. This situation has been less serious in China, but one area still lacking is the enforcement of protections for pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace, as well as equal pay for equal work.

Fernandez: While none of the 20 China CEOs interviewed in our first book were women, the China CEOs of IKEA, Bayer, Manulife-Sinochem and Standard Chartered – all women – were interviewed for the second. Today, the top executives for China at Apple, McDonalds and Starbucks are also women. This is a trend that will surely continue. In addition, today’s China also offers women opportunities in entrepreneurship. The digital revolution has made launching e-commerce businesses accessible for many women. Finally, we see very encouraging trends toward more women joining MBA, EMBA and GEMBA programs in China. In many cases, the ratio of women to men in Chinese business school programs is now close to 50-50.

Flannery: You mention in the book that great potential for businesses can be found in China’s less developed regions. To what extent has Covid fallout in China’s economy affected that outlook for the next few years?

Underwood: China’s less developed regions offer vast potential to MNCs and are generally booming across many industries now. Evidence of this can be seen in the meteoric rise of the e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, which launched in 2017 and now – amazingly — rivals Alibaba in revenue. Pinduoduo smartly targeted two consumer segments which were overlooked by Alibaba and JD.com – China’s elderly and consumer’s in less developed cities. The strategy has clearly worked.

Fernandez: When you travel in China today, you see the relentless and very rapid growth and development of the developing regions. One of the biggest drivers has been the central government’s support for eliminating poverty and supporting infrastructure modernization such as the rapid spread of the world’s best high-speed train network. Another factor: while Chinese are not traveling abroad due to Covid, they are traveling within China. Domestic travel is booming, creating vast opportunities for savvy MNCs.  

Flannery: To what extend will the global push for net zero carbon create opportunities for foreign businesses? 

Juan: MNCs in China are definitely taking the new net-zero deadline seriously. One example: Apple in China has already nearly reached the level of zero emissions. For MNCs, achieving net-zero is not just about money but also improved reputation and helps to attract top talent to their organization. Many MNCs are taking the lead in purpose-driven strategies, which serves to attract young Chinese who seek to make a difference with their careers. In today’s China, fewer young professionals are attracted to manufacturing; more gravitate toward the booming digital sector.

@rflannerychina

China’s power industry has underpinned the country’s rising economic heft over the years. When it comes to power generation, it’s big state-owned companies such as China Huadian and China State Power Investment that lead the way.

But when it comes to manufacturing solar equipment such as solar cells and panels, it’s more nimble private sector suppliers out front with more than half of the global market. Few have done as well as LONGi Green Energy Technology, the country’s No. 1 maker of solar modules, with sales of $8 billion in 2020 and a worldwide customer list that includes Tesla, D.E. Shaw, Engie, Enel and Adani.  LONGi, which today employs more than 60,000 people globally, has over the years delivered solar capacity (now-installed) that is three times that of China’s Three Gorge Dam, the world’s largest power station. The company’s successes – in shipments and the domestic capital market — have lifted its founder into the ranks of the world’s most successful business leaders. President Li Zhenguo (fortune $10.5 billion) is China’s richest man in solar and was one of three LONGi shareholders to make the 2021 Forbes Billionaires List unveiled earlier this month, along with early LONGi executive Li Zhunan ($5.8 billion) and investor Chen Fashu ($1.7 billion from solar).  LONGi’s market capitalization today is more $50 billion, propelled upward in the past year by the tripling of its share price at the Shanghai Stock Exchange. 

Li, 52, sees the business in a global and historical context. Climate change and environmental protection are global issues, Li says. “The majority of countries and economies in the world have made commitments to carbon neutrality around 2050 and 2060.  It’s a global trend to promote energy transition and expand the application of renewable energy,” he said in a recent interview with Forbes China in Shanghai.  “This is a common concern for all mankind that will no doubt lead to more market space” for LONGi, he believes.  

Yet it’s cold, competitive pricing and continued technology progress that also will be key to making that happen, he added.  Li expects solar costs per watt to fall 30% in the next five years and by half in the next decade, pushing up its importance in the overall $5 trillion energy industry.  The switch to global renewables was part of the conversation involving leaders of 40 nations on “Earth Day” today at the Leaders Summit on Climate organized by U.S. President Joseph Biden.

LONGi is headquartered in Xian, but its roots are spread across much of vast China. Li was born in Henan Province, the son of a geologist who was the only college graduate in his rural village.  The family moved to Xining, the capital of mineral-rich Qinghai Province, to get a formal urban residence permit and access to the better schools and healthcare that go with it in China. From there, Li enrolled in Lanzhou University’s physics department and graduated as a major in semiconductor materials. 

It was in Lanzhou that the beginnings of LONGi started to take shape.  Li drew inspiration from Lanzhou University’s president Jiang Longji, as well as calls by Deng Xiaoping at around the same time for the country to try new ways to get ahead.  Li took a job in a government company in Xian after graduation, working with silicon materials – “it was all I knew,” he chuckled — but decided in 2000 to take the plunge as an entrepreneur, founding LONGi with classmates and his wife Li Xiyan as a supplier of reprocessed silicon materials.  The alums named the new business “LONGi” after the Lanzhou University president. 

Compared with bustling, urbane Shanghai, Xian is a peaceful city with “a good research and development environment,” Li said. The ancient capital and silk-road trading hub today also has China’s third-largest number of college graduates each year, giving LONGi access to a lot of young talent. 

In its start-up days, LONGi had mixed results.  Li recalled taking on more projects than the company’s small staff was able to handle well.  For example, in 2003, a shipment to a customer in the Ukraine was rejected following inspection. The goods only made it back to China in 2004 after nearly a year at sea, but nevertheless sold at a higher price.  From this, he learned that “you make a mistake and a company could die,” Li recalled. “Failure didn’t lead to death” at LONGi, however, and the

founders decided to introduce new shareholders and narrow their focus on the emerging solar industry rather than semiconductor companies, having given more thought to the connections between the two businesses.     

By 2012, with more success under its belt as supplier of relatively efficient mono-crystalline wafers and ingot formed with silicon, LONGi Group raised the equivalent of more than $200 million in an IPO and went public at the Shanghai Stock Exchange.  By then, China’s global competitiveness in the industry supply chain was already taking shape: large-scale manufacturing capacity amplified the advantage of ample labor at internationally competitive wages. On the demand side of the industry, an ever-growing range of applications in off-grid set-ups and as well as new larger scale power-generation facilities helped orders flow. Plunging solar costs in the past 3-4 years in connection with technology advances are proving to governments and businesses that solar’s competitiveness is long-term, Li believes. That, in turn, has been encouraging both groups of customers to widely embrace zero-carbon goals for the middle of this century. 

Confidence is vital because the payback period with investments in solar isn’t short. Whereas home appliances will be used for 8-10 years and mobile phones for three years, solar panels are purchased with the idea they’ll be around for decades, Li said. Customers want to know if a supplier will be around for 30 years; if not, they won’t have confidence in you, he said. “Customers will care a lot about business sustainability and finance.  The development of your company is related to your financial sustainability,” adding: “LONGi happens to be good at this.”  

Profit growth of nearly two-thirds to $1.3 billion in 2020 from a year earlier helped LONGi last year pump more than $300 million into research, expand plant capacity, and increase its products and services. New targets: markets for building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPV, and power-charging stations for electric vehicles. New financial support measures announced by the People’s Bank of China this year to encourage solar and wind energy businesses will give those industries more help. 

Globally, if solar’s share of total global electricity production can increase to double-digits from the current 7%, utilities will invest even more on their own in using and storing solar power.   “We have to take care of things at home” and be a technology leader, Li said.  “Then we will invest overseas depending on each country’s policies.” Last year, LONGi’s international sales increased by 70% to $3.3 billion.

One of those overseas customers, D.E. Shaw, is happy with the competitiveness of its products. Manhal Aboudi, an executive director at D. E. Shaw Renewable Investments, or DESRI, has known Li for about five years, since the two first met at a solar conference where LONGi’s president was” talking about his vision for the technology,” he recalled. “We had several meetings, and then it ended up that they actually developed the technology and the product.”     About two years after first getting acquainted,  DESRI, which owns and operates more than 40 renewable energy facilities across the United States, started placing orders for LONGi’s equipment. Li has a “strong technical background that has enabled him to deliver a product that is competitive in the market,” said Aboudi, who has visited LONGi’s plants in China and Vietnam: “We enjoy working with them and Mr. Li”; he expects to business with LONGi to expand in the future. 

For its part, LONGi – which says it has no plants in China’s controversial Xinjiang region — sees pros and cons of manufacturing at a U.S. location.  On one hand, the U.S. is promoting clean energy, not only for new plants but also as a replacement for older ones. On the other hand, “costs are too high,” Li said.  Construction expenses, for instance, are twice as much as China. And then, once a factory is built, it takes roughly 1,500 workers to achieve the output of 1,000 back home because of higher wages and limits on work hours, he noted. What’s more, the supply chain in the U.S. isn’t so complete. As a result, a U.S. project would need investment incentives and favorable policies, Li said. If available, “then we’ll do this,” he said. “We are constantly looking.”    

Though Li believes solar costs will continue to fall, storage costs of the energy generated need to decline further, he noted. Yet that isn’t deterring the executive from new long-term term ideas.   One is what he calls “solar for solar” power facilities located offshore that can be used to help desalinate seawater in desert areas. Water can then be brought onshore from offshore to support new green belts that absorb carbon.  “Turning deserts into oases and reducing carbon would be a good thing for the earth,” he said.  

Li increasingly shares his views and visions at international forums. LONGi became

“Turning deserts into oases and reducing carbon would be a good thing for the earth”

LONGi President Li Zhenguo

a member of the United Nations Global Compact in Sept. 2019; he spoke at the UN Global Compact 2020 Summit and expressed his belief that solar will replace traditional energy over time. 

Back at home, LONGi focuses on more than green initiatives.  Last year, it donated the equivalent of more than $1.5 million to support medical teams from Shaanxi Province that were working in Hubei to control the Covid-19 outbreak.  It also operates a “LONGi One Percent Foundation” that was registered with the Red Cross Society of China in 2010, and donates solar modules to help with poverty relief in Shanxi, Hebei and Hainan . 

Socially minded, well-off business leaders like Microsoft software Bill Gates elude passion for solving the world’s energy problems. Gates, for instance, this year authored “How to Avoid Climate Disaster” and has used his fame and fortune to promote ideas and investments that will hopefully lead to a net zero-carbon world at mid-century.  At a time of geopolitical rift between the U.S. and China, it’s easy to imagine that focused, technology-savvy billionaires such as Li might arise from China and speak to a global audience in a bigger way, too.  

Click here for a Chinese-language version of this story.

See related post:

China Acccounts For A Fifth Of New Forbes Midas List, Underscoring Its Growing Tech Clout

@rflannerychina