The story of Wang Wei, the billionaire who created “the Chinese Fedex” starting from a minivan

Until 2009, the only way to send packages in China was to go through the national postal system. The absence of private operators for this type of service, today essential with e-commerce becoming a fundamental component of our daily life, depended above all on the fact that this activity was declared illegal at the state level and that if a citizen had been caught carrying parcels and packages here and there would have broken the law. A man, however, managed to slip into the most classic of the gray areas, managing to start, with six couriers and a minivan, a same-day delivery activity that today allows him to have a fortune estimated by Forbes at about 29 billion dollars. Behind the “Fedex of China”, as the SF Express has been renamed, is Wang Wei.

Low profile, interviews or opportunities left to the media to try to deepen or learn more about his story are rare. The numbers and growth of Wang Wei’s company, however, necessarily attracted attention, so much so that Hong Kong-based Next magazine sent a reporter to work undercover as a delivery boy for three months in 2010, Business Insider explains. Wang Wei was born in Shanghai in 1970 and moved to Hong Kong with his family when he was 7 years old: his father is a Russian translator for the Chinese army, while his mother is a university teacher rebuilds the People’s China Daily Online. Wang did not speak often about this period of his life and his existence in general, but the South China Morning Post reports some of his statements that suggest a situation that is not too simple for the family after the transfer: “I know what it means to be poor, being discriminated against by people for being poor. My parents were university professors in China, but their academic achievements were not recognized when we moved to Hong Kong when I was little. So we started from scratch ”. Starting from scratch that can also be extended to an entrepreneurial level for Wang. The spark that leads to the birth of a first same-day parcel delivery service comes suddenly and, above all, has to face a series of objective obstacles. Also on People’s China Daily Online we read about how Wang, having returned to China in the meantime, remembers the reasons that led him to think of something that was not yet there in the mid-90s and starting from Shunde, a minor city in the Southeast Guangdong Province: “Many Hong Kong people had factories in Guangdong, China at the time and had requests for courier service. So I thought: Why don’t I start a courier company myself? As a result, I founded SF in Shunde with some partners ”.

A need that he too, at that time engaged in the textile sector, encounters for the umpteenth time when he finds himself having to send samples to Hong Kong from China, dealing with long and inconvenient times to do business. So, thanks also to a loan from his father, he started offering his own delivery service between Shenzhen and Hong Kong in one day. Starting equipment: six messengers and a minivan. Wang himself gets involved in the early stages, delivering parcels despite the risks that were considerable, as he explains to the South China Morning Post: “When SF started delivering parcels in the 1990s it was still a illegal activity called “black delivery”. We would have been fined if caught by postal officers, so we had to handle parcels in secret ”. However, the demand is considerable and the possibilities of earning concrete because the need to move goods quickly was added in those years by a powerful economic exploit and the launch of the first e-commerce that pushed the demand for shipments. In a market as vast as China, the numbers can quickly become unsustainable if resources are not adequate and so in 2003 Wang began hiring cargo planes to speed up his deliveries, an unprecedented move for private couriers in China. The birth of other companies, illegal like Wang’s, puts the government in front of reality and so in 2009 comes the opening also for private operators for a market that today records frightening numbers and constantly growing demand. Wang was not unprepared for the state green light and again in 2009 he created his own airline, SF Airlines, in order to satisfy delivery requests. The latest leap is the listing on the stock exchange which arrives in 2017, with an expansion of the business in the middle also in Australia. SF Express today is one of the giants of the Chinese economy that in the first half of 2020, despite the pandemic and the lockdown, announced that it had increased its revenues by about 10 billion dollars.

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