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一位中国顶级投资者如何改造这家传统鞋厂

Debbie Yong 2017年12月13日

技术边缘化的公司也可以跳上技术的火车,变得更加有用,重新焕发出生机。

张磊管理着高瓴资本的350亿美元基金,并被看作中国最精明的投资者之一,不过起初他并未打算涉足金融界。

在耶鲁大学管理学院就读期间,张磊寻找实习机会未果,最后接受了一份耶鲁大学投资办公室(Yale University Investment Office)的校内工作。在上周三中国广州举办的财富国际科技头脑风暴大会上,张磊接受了采访,笑着回忆道:“至少他们给的薪水比纽黑文的中国餐馆更高。”

在那里,他翻译了耶鲁首席投资官大卫·史文森的著作《机构投资与基金管理的创新》张磊认为,这本书引发了他对于私人股本投资管理的兴趣,尤其是在新兴市场。

张磊说:“但是我想做些不同的事情。我希望建立一种投资模式,去投资那些伟大的公司和不可思议的企业家,无论他们处于什么阶段。他们可能在进行早期募资或A轮融资,可能是一家公开上市公司,又或者在等待收购。”

张磊回忆道:“我认为这是个好主意,不过在我和许多潜在的LP讨论时,没有人相信我。”这里他使用了LP这个金融术语,意思是“有限责任合伙人”,指的是那些把资金注入风投基金的投资方。“他们都说这想法太疯狂了。”募资一年后,他终于设法取得了一位有限合伙人的信赖。耶鲁捐赠基金同意加入。

利用这2,000万美元的投资,张磊把钱投向了处于各个阶段和行业的公司,从生物科技到计算机科学再到传统家电,不一而足。张磊也是第一批支持中国互联网企业家的投资者,这些企业家中就包括京东的刘强东和腾讯的创始人和首席执行官马化腾。

张磊说:“那是在2005年,你可以感觉到中国有什么东西正在酝酿发酵。那不只是因特网,而是企业家的意识。每个人都渴望成为最好的自己。那是最好的时机。许多人低估了那些公司的业务价值,当时,这种价值远远超过了他们的货币价值或现金流。”

张磊表示,以腾讯为例,该公司拥有中国最大的社交网络,尽管他们当时的商业模式仅仅是出售虚拟的表情包,并为中国移动等通讯公司做分销。“他们可能还没有想清楚如何盈利,或是当时市场还没有让他们盈利的环境,但是他们在不断创造价值。”

张磊引用了他最喜欢的一句中国古语:“桃李不言,下自成蹊。”他解释道:“只要做得不错,即使你只是一家小公司,随着时间的推移你也会发展壮大、取得成功。”

高瓴资本就是这样的例子。公司管理的资本从一开始的2,000万美元增长到了如今的350亿美元。2017年7月,他们以68亿美元收购了中国的鞋类零售商百丽国际,并将其退市。张磊说,此举是为了让他的团队有机会去不断创新,他也经常建议他投资的企业家这么做。

如今,张磊是百丽的董事长,他说:“本质上说,我们是碰巧成为了投资者的企业家。(百丽)给了我们另一个机会,让我们去展示要如何利用自己的专长帮助公司自我革新。”

百丽是一家传统的实体零售商,旗下有12万员工,拥有并管理着2万家门店,但这不重要,张磊以技术的眼光审视了这项业务。

“在第一次企业内部员工会议上,我们讨论了如何改善UX(用户体验)和零售体验的UI(用户界面)。我们把每日来店的600万到800万消费者看作DAU,也就是日活跃用户。”张磊的技术行话层出不穷。他的团队也在试图用技术提高员工的生产力,让他们为自己的工作而自豪,并试图通过足弓高度、脚趾大小等因素,实现大规模定制鞋类,带来新的零售体验。

张磊把这看作让技术“超越创造性破坏者的角色,去扮演一个平衡者”的“伟大使命”。尽管技术可以推动社会发展到更高的层次,但也可能加剧数字鸿沟。那1%的顶尖公司会变得更好、更智能,而大部分公司会落后,享受不到技术的利好,甚至被技术边缘化。

然而,他表示,如果管理得当,“被技术边缘化的公司也可以跳上技术的火车,变得更加有用,重新焕发出生机。我对此感觉很好,但我对回报和结果也很有信心。”例如,在高瓴资本的管理之下,百丽已经摆脱了增速下滑的颓势,过去两个月里实现了两位数的增长。

张磊说:“我们的做法与西方传统的私人股本公司大不一样,他们注重的是高负债比例和削减成本。我们不那样,我们是低杠杆,目标是把整块蛋糕做得更大。对我们来说,那就是创新。”(财富中文网)

译者:严匡正

Hillhouse Capital’s Zhang Lei runs a $35 billion dollar fund and is considered one of China’s shrewdest venture capitalists, but he didn’t start out wanting to be in finance.

After an internship search proved futile as a student at the Yale School of Management, Zhang landed an on-campus job with the Yale University Investment Office. “At least they paid better than a Chinese restaurant in New Haven,” he recalled to laughter during an interview at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech International conference in Guangzhou, China on Wednesday.

There, he translated Yale chief investment officer David Swensen’s book, Pioneering Portfolio Management, which Zhang credits for cementing his interest in private equity investment management, particularly for emerging markets.

“But I wanted to do something different,” Zhang said. “I wanted to form a model to invest in great companies and incredible entrepreneurs, irrespective of which stage they were in. They could be raising an early or Series A round, a public company, or in a buyout.”

“I thought it was good idea, but when I spoke with a lot of prospective LPs, nobody believed me,” he recalled, using finance jargon for “limited partner,” the investors who put money in venture capital funds. “What a crazy idea, they all said.” After year of fundraising, he managed to convince only one LP, the Yale endowment fund, to get on board.

With that $20 million investment, Zhang put his money in companies across different stages and sectors, from biotechnology to computer science and traditional appliance companies. Zhang was also the first to back several Chinese Internet entrepreneurs, including e-commerce giant JD.com’s Richard Liu and Tencent’s founder and chief executive, Pony Ma.

“It was 2005, and you could feel something brewing in the air in China. It wasn’t only the Internet, but the sense of entrepreneurship. Everyone aspired to be the best versions of themselves. It was the best time,” Zhang said. “A lot of people underestimated the franchise value those companies built, which at the time far exceeded their monetary value, or cash flow.”

Tencent, for instance, had the largest social network in China even though its business model at the time was merely selling virtual emoji stickers and doing distribution for telecommunications companies such as China Mobile, Zhang said. “Either they had not figured out how to get money or the market was not ready to give them money, but they kept on creating value.”

Quoting his favorite Chinese poem, ‘plum and pear trees don’t talk and people still leave their paths to find them’, Zhang explained: “Once you do good things, even if you are a small company, over time you can grow to be big and successful.”

Hillhouse is one such example. From the initial $20 million seed capital, Hillhouse now manages over $35 billion. In July 2017, it acquired Chinese footwear retailer Belle International for $6.8 billion and subsequently delisted the company. The move, Zhang said, was a chance for his team to do what he often advises the entrepreneurs he invests in—to keep innovating.

“We are in essence entrepreneurs who happen to be investors. [Belle] gives us another chance to say, how do we leverage our expertise to help companies reinvent themselves,” said Zhang, who is now Belle’s chairman.

Never mind that Belle is a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer with 120,000 employees and 20,000 owned and managed stores, Zhang views the business through a tech lens.

“In my first townhall meeting, we talked about how to improve the UX [tech lingo for user experience] and UI [user interface] of our retail experience. We view the 6 million to 8 million daily visitors to our stores as DAU, or daily active users,” he laughed, throwing in even more tech talk. His team is also looking at using technology to make employees more productive and proud of their jobs, as well as introducing new retail experiences such as the mass customization of shoes by arch height, toe size, and more.

Zhang considers it his “great mission” to make technology “go beyond being a creative destructor but also an equalizer”. While technology can propel society to the next level, it can also accelerate the digital gap, he believes. The top 1% will get better and smarter while the majority will lag behind and will not enjoy the benefits—or will even be marginalized by technology.

Yet, if managed well, “companies marginalized by technology can be re-energized by jumping on the tech train to be more useful,” he said. “I feel good about that, but I also feel great about the returns and results,” said Zhang. Under Hillhouse’s management, for instance, Belle has moved from declining growth to double digit growth in the last two months.

“What we do is very different from traditional private equity in the West, which focuses on high leverage and cost cutting. We are not that, we are low leverage, and our goal is to grow a bigger pie,” he said. “To us, that’s innovation.”

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