Wang Chuanfu just wanted to lead the quiet life of a government researcher when he finished his master's degree at Beijing Non-Ferrous Research Institute in 1990. His passion: to make better batteries for electronic products. "My target was to be a very good engineer," recalls Wang, now 37. Instead, Wang has emerged as one of China's most successful entrepreneurs. What changed his career path? The lack of money for research at government-run centers. "It was very difficult to do anything," he says.
Wang quit the public sector and struck out on his own in 1995. Many government employees were catching the entrepreneurial bug at that time. Wang set up a company on the outskirts of Shenzhen, the boom town across the border from Hong Kong, and started producing batteries for mobile phones and other electronics products. Wang called the enterprise BYD Co. He says the letters had no special meaning, although now he jokes that they stand for "bring you dollars."
The company certainly has brought them to BYD Chairman Wang and his fellow shareholders. BYD is among the top three makers of high-end rechargeable batteries used in cellular phones. Following a successful initial public offering last year on Hong Kong's NASDAQ-style Growth Enterprise Market and a runup in the stock, Wang's 28% stake in the company is worth $306 million.
BYD earned $80 million last year, on sales of $275 million, and counts among its customers the world's biggest cellular-phone manufacturers, including Nokia Corp. and Motorola Inc. Prominently displayed in Wang's office is an award from Motorola Chairman Christopher B. Galvin, citing BYD as an "excellent supplier."
But Wang isn't content with supplying batteries for makers of telephones and high-tech gadget makers. In January, he announced that BYD was acquiring a majority stake in a Chinese auto manufacturer. His notion is for the company to become a player in the nascent electric-car market. The takeover startled investors, some of whom sold out, sending BYD's stock price tumbling. It has since recovered. Wang insists that the electric-auto business could ensure the company's future growth. Having surpassed most of his Japanese rivals, "in three years, we will reach the limit for our future growth" in the core battery business, he explains.
Wang's not wasting time. By autumn, he says BYD batteries will be powering 200 taxis in the northwestern Chinese city of Xian. BYD hopes for a commercial launch by 2006. Unrealistic? Maybe, but Wang sees himself as a trailblazer. "Good technology always comes from good companies," he says. "In the past, Chinese enterprises were 100% state-owned, and so we didn't have good companies." As China tries to leap from low-cost manufacturer to innovator, Wang hopes to show the way.