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投资理财

曾经是内蒙古戈壁里的农夫,如今成为传奇投资人,他是怎么做到的?

Shawn Tully 2019年12月01日

单伟建深谙中国消费者的痛点,并凭借精明的投资赢得巨额回报。

太盟投资集团董事长兼首席执行官单伟建。图片来源:Photograph by Verónica Sanchis Bencomo

当今国际局势复杂多变,各国经济均面临较大挑战,中国似乎也不例外。但单伟建看法不同。他认为中国是一个蓬勃发展、坐拥14亿消费者的庞大市场。这个市场不会受到关税争端的影响,是世界上最好的投资地点之一。

在一个寒冷的夜晚,我们坐在曼哈顿上西城的一家梅森凯瑟咖啡店。我点了一杯拿铁和一份烤饼,而单伟建只要了一杯热水。现年66岁的他身材瘦削,浑身上下散发着一种带有禅意的平静。他执掌的太盟投资集团(下文简称PAG)是亚洲最大的私募股权机构。他准备打电话参加PAG旗下一家公司的董事会,后者在北京运营一家英语辅导机构。“贸易争端是围绕昨天爆发的冲突。”他用柔和、略带口音的英语说。“赢得中国消费者才是真正的战利品。”

20年来,单伟建从这个战利品中获利颇丰。他的超凡能力反映了三种截然不同的特点,由此让他成为了一位对中国市场异常敏锐的观察者:他是一位成功的实地交易撮合者,管理着350亿美元的资产;他也是一位曾经在美国接受博士教育的经济学家、前商学院教授;此外,他的个人道路折射出他的祖国从极端贫困走向经济奇迹的变革历程。早在单伟建读博时就与他相识的芝加哥大学布斯商学院的退休经济学教授罗伯特·艾利伯对他赞叹有加:“我想不出有谁能够比他更清楚地看到中国各个市场的真实图景。这就是他如此成功的原因。”

“成功”是一种保守的说法。单伟建的公司运营一只房地产投资基金和一项企业贷款业务,但他的影响力主要体现在价值150亿美元、由他亲自操刀的PAG私募股权投资组合上。他拒绝透露相关的投资者或回报信息。但公共记录和其他报告显示,单伟建的客户包括大型养老基金、保险公司和捐赠基金。他的私募股权投资者包括加州公务员退休基金、旧金山公共雇员退休体系,以及新加坡和科威特的主权财富基金。PAG去年还与黑石集团进行战略合作,这家美国私募股权巨头由此成为了PAG的少数股权股东。尽管外界很难计算私募基金的回报率,但对单伟建买卖过的公司,以及他目前投资组合的盈利能力所做的分析显示,10年来,他平均每年从这些公司身上获得大约30%的回报。

这些回报植根于中国高歌猛进的国内经济。单伟建信心满满地表示,中美贸易争端不会遏制这种态势。在他看来,美国总统特朗普的关税攻势“主要打击的是业已下滑的出口部门,而消费领域一直在蓬勃发展。”中国消费市场展现了无限诱人的可能性,因为它本身就是一个世界——美国和中国公司卖给中国消费者的很多产品也是在中国制造的。

在与《财富》杂志持续数月的对话中,单伟建详细阐述了这一命题。我们的对话犹如一场流动的盛宴,但四处奔走的并非是《财富》杂志的记者,而是单伟建。在位于香港中环(他也住在那里)的PAG总部、在开车去家乡餐厅吃饭的途中、在旧金山(他在那里开始了他的美国求学生涯)漫步时,单伟建接受了我大约10小时的电话采访。一路上,他详细描述了自己如何在日托中心、约会网站和一大群奶牛身上发现了巨大的潜力。

Most headlines today depict a China under siege, its long economic boom ominously waning as it duels with the U.S. in a volatile trade war. But Weijian Shan is talking about the other China, the thriving market of 1.4 billion customers that, he claims, stands shielded from tariff disputes—and is one of the world’s best places to invest.

On a wintry evening, we’re seated in a Maison Kayser coffee shop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I’m having a latte and scone, while Shan, a wiry 66-year-old who exudes Zen calm, orders hot water. Shan heads PAG, Asia’s largest private equity firm, and he’s about to phone in for the board meeting of a company PAG owns that runs an English-language tutoring school in Beijing. “The trade war is yesterday’s conflict,” he says, in soft, lightly accented English. “The prize is winning the Chinese consumer.”

Shan has been profiting from that prize for two decades. His prowess reflects three contrasting traits that have made him an unusually astute observer of China’s markets: He’s a successful on-the-ground dealmaker, managing $35 billion in assets; he’s a U.S.-trained Ph.D. economist and former business-school professor; and he’s a figure whose personal path mirrors his nation’s transition from repressive poverty to an economic miracle. Says Robert Aliber, a retired economics professor from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business who’s known Shan since he was a doctoral student: “I can’t think of anyone who offers a better streetscape view of the individual markets in China. That’s why he’s been so successful.”

“Successful” is an understatement. Shan’s firm operates a real estate investment fund and a corporate lending franchise, but his impact shows most in PAG’s $15 billion private equity portfolio, which he directly manages. He declines to disclose information about his investors or returns. But public records and other reporting show that Shan’s clients include major pension funds, insurance companies, and endowments. Among his private equity investors are ­Calpers, San Francisco’s public-employee retirement system, and the sovereign wealth funds of Singapore and Kuwait. PAG also took on U.S. private equity giant Blackstone as a minority partner last year. While returns of private funds are hard for outsiders to calculate, an analysis of the companies Shan has bought and sold and the profitability of his current portfolio indicate he’s been generating gains averaging about 30% a year on those companies—for a decade.

Those returns are rooted in China’s roaring domestic economy, and Shan expresses confidence that trade tensions won’t muffle that boom. In his view, President Trump’s tariff offensive “mainly hits an export sector that’s already in decline,” says Shan. “The consumer sector has kept thriving.” And that sector offers enticing possibilities because it is something of a world unto itself, since so much of what U.S. and Chinese companies sell to consumers in China is also made in China.

In conversations with Fortune over several months, Shan elaborated on that premise. It was a movable feast in which Shan did most of the moving, treating me to around 10 hours of phone interviews from PAG’s headquarters in central Hong Kong, where he also lives; from his car while driving to dinner at a hometown eatery; and while strolling in San Francisco, where he began his U.S. education. Along the way, Shan described how he spots megahit potential in the likes of day-care centers, dating websites, and a huge herd of dairy cows.

****

单伟建在北京长大,父亲是一名海关官员,母亲从事文秘工作。他小时候经历过贫困的生活。

1969年,正值知青上山下乡之际,单伟建前往内蒙古戈壁沙漠,成为广大农民中的一员。他所在的单位负责在贫瘠的土地上种植小麦和玉米。单伟建还做过“赤脚医生”, 为其他工农兵提供基本的医疗服务。在寒冷的冬天,燃烧冰冻的牛粪成了唯一的热量来源。“后来到美国时,我非常惊讶地发现,如果人们有不同意见时,经常将对方的观点称为‘牛屎’(bullshit),”单伟建告诉我。“你无法相信那玩意对我来说是多么珍贵!”

Shan grew up in Beijing, where his father worked as a customs official and his mother as a secretary.

In 1969, China’s government transplanted 16 million urban teenagers to the countryside. Shan’s destination was the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia, as part of a corps of farmers. His unit was tasked with growing wheat and corn in the barren soil. Shan also served as a “barefoot doctor,” supplying basic medical treatment to other soldiers. In the frigid winters, the only source of heat was burning frozen cow dung. “I was surprised that when people disagree in the U.S., one person calls the other’s argument ‘bullshit,’ ” Shan told me. “You can’t believe how precious that stuff was to me!”

Grady McGregor 2019年11月30日在戈壁沙漠的务农经历,促使单伟建形成了他对自由市场的坚定信念。图片来源:COURTESY OF WEIJIAN SHAN
 

即使在这段困苦时期,单伟建也显示出了他善于提高效率的本领。在被分配到一个三人制砖小组后,他发现专业化有助于提高产量。他给每个队员分配一项任务——一位负责搅拌泥沙;一位负责将搅拌好的泥沙装进磨具;一位负责把砖块运到干燥区。这种安排推动他们的产量几乎翻了一番。

在荒芜的戈壁沙漠上,单伟建孜孜不倦地寻求广阔世界的知识。他坚持收听英语广播,认真研读一本英文配图字典。在中美关系改善后,单伟建抓住了机会。1980年,他获得了一笔赴美留学的奖学金。单伟建选择了旧金山大学,而不是更加有名的斯坦福大学和加州大学伯克利分校,部分原因是旧金山的中文名字听上去非常显赫。“它的意思是‘古老的金矿’,19世纪加入淘金热的移民们都这么叫它。”他解释道。在获得MBA学位后,单伟建于1982年进入伯克利大学攻读博士学位,他的导师包括未来的美联储主席珍妮特•耶伦。在单伟建的回忆录中,耶伦回忆称:“他是一位很有魅力的年轻人,但是很需要好好吃上一顿,然后换个新发型。”

毕业后,单伟建曾经在世界银行工作过一段时间,之后在沃顿商学院任教。但事实证明,他无法抗拒中国经济的市场化进程所蕴含的无限商机。1993年,他加入摩根大通,成为一位常驻香港的投行家,五年后转投新桥投资,后者彼时是私募股权巨头德太投资集团(TPG)的亚洲分支。单伟建与传奇交易撮合者、TPG的创始合伙人庞德文合作,拯救了两家在亚洲债务危机中倒下的银行。TPG向韩国第一银行投资5亿美元,向深圳发展银行注资1.5亿美元。随着这两家银行重焕活力,TPG分别以16.5亿美元和22亿美元的价格出售了它持有的韩国第一银行和深发展股票。与此同时,单伟建在发掘其他机会方面也表现得非常顽强。“他告诉我,他曾经为了参观一家工厂,在中国内地坐了36个小时没有暖气的火车。”艾利伯教授回忆道。

2010年,单伟建离开TPG,随后迅速筹集25亿美元,在一家名为PAG的现有公司启动了自己的基金。事实证明,他在中国和美国金融界高层的深厚人脉,为他筹集资金和发现交易机会提供了莫大的帮助。但他的观察技巧同样至关重要。“他做生意不是靠积极兜售,他是一位教授型交易撮合者。”道琼斯中国公司的前首席执行官、致力于帮助企业应对中国监管程序的咨询师麦健陆说。“单伟建非常善于分析和解释他所投资领域的详细机制。”

Even amid hardship, Shan showed a knack for efficiencies. Assigned to a team of three to make bricks, Shan found that specialization hiked their output. He gave each teammate one task—mixing clay and sand, packing the compound into molds, or transporting bricks to the drying area—and the process nearly doubled their production.

In the wilds, Shan relentlessly sought knowledge about the wider world. He secretly listened to Voice of America broadcasts in English while studying a dictionary that matched English words with pictures. Later, when China began building ties to America under Deng Xiaoping, Shan seized his opportunity. In 1980, he won a scholarship to attend a U.S. university. Shan chose the University of San Francisco over Stanford and UC Berkeley, in part because the Chinese name for San Francisco had a prestigious ring. “It means ‘Old Gold Mountain,’ as it was called by the immigrants who joined the 19th-century gold rush,” he explains. After earning an MBA, Shan enrolled in 1982 as a doctoral student at Berkeley, where his advisers included Janet Yellen, the future chair of the Federal Reserve, who in Shan’s book recalls “a charming young man in need of a good meal and a new haircut.”

Upon graduating, Shan worked briefly at the World Bank, then taught at the Wharton School. But the chance to capitalize on China’s shift to a market-driven economy proved irresistible. In 1993, he joined J.P. Morgan as an investment banker in Hong Kong, switching five years later to Newbridge Capital, then the Asian arm of private equity firm TPG. Shan worked with legendary dealmaker David Bonderman to revive two banks felled by the Asian debt crisis. TPG invested $500 million in Korea First Bank and $150 million in Shenzhen Development Bank. As the lenders rebounded, TPG sold its shares in Korea First for $1.65 billion and in Shenzhen for $2.2 billion. Shan, meanwhile, was typically dogged in unearthing other opportunities. “He told me that he’d traveled 36 hours on a unheated train in China’s interior to visit a factory,” recalls Aliber, the professor.

In 2010, Shan left TPG and quickly raised $2.5 billion to start his own fund at an existing firm called PAG. His contacts in top echelons of the Chinese and American financial worlds proved invaluable in raising money and spotting deals. But his observational skills were just as potent. “The way he’s gotten business isn’t by being an aggressive salesman but by being a professor-dealmaker,” says James McGregor, former CEO of Dow Jones China and a consultant who helps companies navigate China’s regulatory process. Shan is “great at analyzing and explaining the detailed mechanics of the sectors he invests in.”

****

 

这只PAG基金的启动时机,恰逢一场历史性转变。单伟建说,从那时起,“中国已经从世界工厂转变为世界市场。”

中国经济最近增势放缓,这几乎完全归因于出口和制造业的下滑——换句话说,这是“工厂”的衰落所致。单伟建指出,这在很大程度上反映了政府推动的去杠杆化运动:从2017年开始,中国政府采取一系列激进措施,以期收缩臃肿的国有工业,并将过剩的信贷挤出银行体系和房地产市场。

这种减速更核心的原因是,从长期趋势看,中国经济正在从出口导向型制造业向消费导向型转变。随着中国工资水平持续攀升,无数家庭将更多的收入用在医疗、娱乐、餐饮和消费品上面。通常情况下,向消费社会的转变会抑制整体增长率。“制造业能够产生乘数效应。”单伟建解释说。“一家新工厂开工,雇佣员工,然后从其他生产商购买供应品和电力,而这些生产商也会雇佣更多的工人,从而创造更多的工资来购买商品。”但消费支出“是一美元换一美元,它所创造的经济增长率相对较低。”

单伟建强调称,早在贸易争端爆发之前,出口和制造业就开始下滑。自2010年以来,中国出口额占GDP的比重从36%降至18%。这意味着,美国加征的关税对中国造成的伤害远没有以前那么大:对美出口占中国国民收入的比例,已经从10年前的三分之一降至区区4%。今年,中国输美商品预计将下降约600亿美元。但正如单伟建所指出的那样,中国向世界其他地区的出口额要多得多,从而削弱了对美出口下降带来的负面影响。

随着制造业步入衰退,中国的消费水平不断走高。如今,中国消费支出正在以每年10%的速度持续增长,是美国增速的2.5倍。令人惊讶的是,今年8月,中国零售行业(意指消费品市场,但不包括服务业)折合成年率增长至6.22万亿美元,首次超过美国。

这场消费革命并非完全不受贸易争端的影响。“心理方面的影响可能很大。”单伟建警告说。他回忆称,当美国在2018年年中实施第一轮关税时,市场一片恐慌,中国股市暴跌25%,尽管此后有所反弹。

尽管如此,单伟建认为,迅速增长的中国居民收入将抵消对贸易争端的担忧。从这种增长中获利良多的企业,包括一批美国公司——去年,美国公司在中国的销售额高达4000亿美元。尽管针锋相对的关税战已经伤害了美国农民和制造商,但迄今为止,那些在中国生产,并在中国销售的公司并未受到多大影响。正如单伟建所言,这类公司不胜枚举。

为了服务迅速增长的中国客户群体,特斯拉在上海建设了Gigafactory 3,后者是全球最大的汽车工厂之一。苹果在中国的iPhone用户比美国还多,通用汽车的在华销量早已经超越美国本土。星巴克去年雄心勃勃地宣称,要将在华收入增加两倍以上——目前估计占总销售额的20%。麦当劳承诺到2022年新增2000家餐厅。总部设在上海,但在得克萨斯州注册的百胜中国是中国最大的餐饮企业。旗下的餐饮品牌肯德基和必胜客分别是中国首屈一指的快餐和休闲餐厅。百盛中国正在追寻一个长期发展目标,即将门店数量从目前的8900家扩大到20000家。

The PAG fund launched just in time to capitalize on a historic transition. Since then, Shan says, “China has gone from the factory of the world to the market for the world.”

The recent slowdown in China’s growth is attributable almost entirely to a decline in exports and manufacturing—to the “factory,” in other words. Much of that, Shan notes, reflects government-driven deleveraging: Starting in 2017, Beijing took radical steps to shrink bloated, state-owned industrial enterprises and squeeze excess credit out of the banking system and housing market.

Even more central to the deceleration is China’s long-term shift from export-led manufacturing to consumption. As Chinese wages rise, families spend a higher proportion of their income on health care, entertainment, restaurants, and consumer goods. The shift to a consumer society, as a rule, dampens the overall growth rate. “In manufacturing, you have a multiplier effect,” explains Shan. “A new plant starts and hires people, then buys supplies and power from producers that hire more people, who generate more wages to buy things.” But consumer spending, “dollar for dollar, creates less growth.”

Shan emphasizes that exports and manufacturing started falling long before the trade war began. Since 2010, the value of goods China ships abroad dropped from 36% of GDP to 18%. That means U.S.-imposed tariffs sting less: Exports to the U.S. now represent only 4% of China’s national income, around one-third the level of a decade ago. This year, China’s shipments to America are expected to drop by around $60 billion. But as Shan points out, China has been exporting far more goods to the rest of the world, blunting that decline’s impact.

As manufacturing retreated, Chinese consumption rose. At 10% a year, Chinese consumer spending is growing 2.5 times as fast as the equivalent U.S. figure. Amazingly, China’s retail sector—defined as the market for consumer goods, but excluding services—grew to an annualized $6.22 trillion this August, surpassing the U.S. for the first time.

This consumer revolution isn’t completely immune to the trade war. “The psychological impact could be large,” Shan warns. He recalls that when the U.S. unleashed its first round of tariffs in mid-2018, panic reigned, and Chinese stocks dropped 25%, though they have since bounced back.

Still, Shan reckons that fast-rising Chinese incomes will triumph over trade fears. Among the businesses capitalizing on that growth are a host of U.S. companies—to the tune of $400 billion in sales inside China each year. While tariff tit-for-tats have hurt U.S. farmers and ­manufacturers, they’re so far sparing companies that make goods in China to sell in China—and those, as Shan notes, are plentiful.

Tesla is building Gigafactory 3, one of the world’s largest auto plants, in Shanghai, to serve a burgeoning Chinese customer base. Apple has more iPhone users in China than in the U.S., and GM sells more cars in China than stateside. Last year, Starbucks announced plans to more than triple its revenues in China—currently estimated at around 20% of total sales. McDonald’s promises 2,000 new restaurants by 2022. And Yum China—headquartered in Shanghai but incorporated in Texas—is China’s largest restaurant company. Its Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut brands are the country’s leading quick-service and casual-dining eateries, respectively, and Yum is pursuing a long-term goal of expanding its store count from its current 8,900 to 20,000.

****

 

那么,单伟建收获的战利品来自何方?从一开始,PAG就专注于投资那些迎合消费者需求、所需成长资金相对较少的企业。它最早的一些成功源自中国之外。例如,PAG是位于日本大阪的环球影城主题公园的重要投资者。单伟建解释说,日本自身的增长并没有那么激动人心,“但我们笃信,这个主题公园肯定会大火特火,因为中国和其他亚洲国家的游客数量将爆炸式增长。后来的事实就是这样。” PAG最初的投资是1.2亿美元。2016年,该公司以12.5亿美元的价格出售了所持股份。

数字音乐是单伟建最成功的投资领域之一。他早早就发现了音乐版权所有者海洋音乐集团(CMC)的巨大潜力。“这是一个购买歌曲、歌词版权和唱片公司的平台。”单伟建解释说。“它拥有中国70%的数字版权。”问题是:彼时的流媒体平台并不需要支付版税。但单伟建预计,打击音乐盗版将是中国法律的大势所趋。2014年,PAG向CMC投资1亿美元,以资助它收购两家颇有人气的流媒体服务商。也就是说,PAG成功实现了一家音乐版权持有者和两大传播平台的垂直整合。2016年,在他的精心策划下,CMC与科技巨头腾讯控股旗下的流媒体平台QQ音乐完成合并,合并后的公司被命名为“腾讯音乐”。如今,腾讯音乐已经在中国音乐流媒体领域占据主导地位,拥有高达8亿活跃用户。鉴于中国正在采取强有力的手段保护音乐版权,腾讯音乐预计将获得巨额收入。2018年年底,腾讯音乐登陆纽交所,PAG的1亿美元投资现在价值约20亿美元。只不过,这个主打流行音乐的流媒体平台的主顾并不包括单伟建自己。“我只听古典音乐,偶尔听听爵士乐也无妨。”他说。

单伟建的投资组合目前包括20多家公司,其中多数为私营企业,PAG通常持有100%的股份或者控股权。中国的医疗保健业是单伟建尤为重视的投资领域之一。他说:“随着人们变得越来越富裕,他们会越来越多地接受一些高端医疗服务,其复杂程度是我当年做赤脚医生时无法想象的。”PAG投资的医疗企业包括中国领先的心脏和中枢神经系统药物制造商吉林英联生物技术有限公司。

PAG还深信,随着中国变得更加富裕,老百姓会更加追求吃的品味。它在这一领域投资的公司包括富友联合食品。这家北欧乳制品供应商正在将它的酸奶和冰淇淋带到中国。在中国,这类食品往往被视为高端美食。PAG还拥有中国最大的牛奶生产商优然牧业的多数股权。单伟建说:“我们拥有10多万头牛,是中国最大的牛群之一!”他指出,其中数千头徜徉在他早年生活的地方——内蒙古大草原。

面向消费者的技术也是单伟建的重要投资领域。PAG参与的一家中国财团拥有总部位于肯塔基州的利盟公司;这家公司在中国的销售增势迅猛,因为中国家庭和办公室打印机市场的增长速度远远快于西方。单伟建的基金还持有约会网站珍爱网的多数股权。这家迅速崛起的婚配服务平台号称拥有1.4亿会员,2018年的销售额约为4亿美元。其模式精确迎合了中国父母的一个热切目标:为女儿找到一位如意郎君。一些父母愿意支付每年高达数千美元的VIP会员费。“中国人非常重视约会。”单伟建解释说。一对男女通过珍爱网相识后,一位女性监护人会对该男子进行审查,并监督他们的首次约会。“她是在那里管理预期的。”单伟建说。

PAG还押注于另一项造福社会的业务:中国的私立学校。“中国父母对子女的溺爱是出了名的。”单伟建说。“在中国,超过60%的幼儿园是私营的。”他抓住这一趋势,收购了金苹果学前教育集团。这家连锁教育机构在成都经营60所幼儿园,总注册人数达1.57万人。此外,PAG拥有的另一家教育公司,总部位于北京的LILY英语学校,致力于为4至12岁的儿童提供沉浸式英语课外教育。对单伟建来说,教育是那种典型的“以小博大”业务,即只需用一小部分收入进行再投资就能产生巨额收益。今年前八个月,金苹果的Ebitda(即息税折旧摊销前利润)飙涨42%,达到3100万美元,利润率超过30%。

单伟建说,去北京的时候,他有时会去拜访一些当年在戈壁沙漠与自己共患难的老朋友。尽管他们几乎总是用黑色幽默的口吻追忆昔日的戈壁岁月,但每当这些老伙伴说起他们的子女是如何受惠于新中国的学校、娱乐、医疗和其他服务时,他总是非常开心。毕竟,这些领域正是他的风险投资生涯赖以成功的基石。“那时候,我们被关在笼子里,哪儿都去不了。”他如是回忆过去的日子。

“后来,笼子渐渐打开,人们开始展翅高飞。当经济体制变得更加开放时,一切都随之改变。”现在,那些在商场购物、在餐厅就餐、在私立学校学习的人,才是中国经济最大的推动力。(财富中文网)

本文另一版本登载于《财富》杂志2019年12月刊,标题为《走在前面的中国人》,是“2020年投资者指南”专题的一部分。

译者:任文科

So where has Shan been reaping his gains? From the start, PAG has focused on businesses that cater to consumers and require relatively little capital to grow. Some of its earliest successes were outside China. PAG was a big investor in the Universal Studios theme park in Osaka, Japan, for example. Japan’s own growth was tepid, Shan explains, “but we thought [the park] would take off because of the explosive growth of visitors from China and other Asian countries. And that’s what happened.” PAG’s original investment was $120 million. In 2016, it sold its stake for $1.25 billion.

One of Shan’s biggest scores has been in digital music. Shan saw huge potential in an owner of music copyrights called China Music Corp. “It was a vehicle for purchasing the rights to songs, lyrics, and music labels,” Shan explains, “and it owned 70% of all the digital rights in China.” The problem: The streaming platforms at the time were paying no royalties. But Shan anticipated that legal trends in China would turn against music piracy. In 2014, PAG invested $100 million in CMC, enabling it to buy two popular streaming services—vertically integrating a musical rights holder with a means of transmission. And in 2016, he helped orchestrate a merger between CMC and QQ Music, the streaming platform of tech conglomerate Tencent, to create Tencent Music Entertainment. Today, that service’s dominant position has swelled its audience to 800 million active users—and strong copyright enforcement means it’s earning huge revenue. Late in 2018, Tencent Music went public on the New York Stock Exchange, and PAG’s $100 million investment is now worth around $2 billion. Tencent Music’s pop-oriented patrons don’t include Shan himself, who says, “I only listen to classical music, and I don’t mind jazz.”

Shan’s portfolio currently consists of over 20 companies, most of them private, in which PAG usually owns either 100% or a controlling interest. Health care in China is one of Shan’s themes. “As people become more affluent, they consume more and more of the sophisticated treatment I could never supply as a barefoot doctor,” he says. PAG’s health care investments include Jilin Yinglian, a leading maker of cardiac and central nervous system drugs.

PAG has also bet on the expanding culinary tastes of a more affluent nation. One holding is Food Union, a Northern European dairy-products purveyor that’s bringing its yogurt and ice cream to China, where such treats are considered high-end delicacies. PAG also owns a majority stake in China’s largest milk producer, China Youran Dairy. “We own more than 100,000 cows, one of the biggest herds in China!” says Shan, noting that thousands of them graze in the pastures of his old haunt, Inner Mongolia.

Consumer-facing technology also fuels Shan’s strategy. PAG is part of a Chinese consortium that owns Kentucky-based Lexmark; its sales have taken off in China, where the market for home and office printers is growing far faster than in the West. Shan’s fund also holds a majority stake in Zhenai, a dating website. The mushrooming matchmaker boasts 140 million members, and it posted roughly $400 million in 2018 sales. It tailors its model to a fervent goal for Chinese parents: finding an acceptable spouse for their daughters, a service for which some parents are willing to pay thousands of dollars a year for VIP memberships. “In China, dating is taken very seriously,” explains Shan. After a man and woman meet online through Zhenai, a female chaperone vets the man and oversees the couple’s first meeting. “She’s there to manage expectations,” Shan says.

PAG is also betting on another social-­betterment business: China’s private schools. “Chinese parents spoil their kids,” says Shan. “More than 60% of the kindergartens in China are private.” He seized on the trend by purchasing Golden Apple, a chain in Chengdu that runs 60 kindergarten centers, with total enrollment of 15,700. Another PAG-owned academy, Lily English in Beijing, educates children from ages 4 to 12 in after-school courses conducted exclusively in English. For Shan, education is a model business that reinvests only small dollops of earnings to generate big gains. Through the first eight months of this year, Golden Apple’s Ebitda has soared 42%, to $31 million, with margins exceeding 30%.

When he visits Beijing, Shan says, he sometimes meets with friends from his years in the Gobi. Although they mostly recall the black comedy of their life in the wilderness, Shan is delighted when his old comrades talk about how their children are benefiting from the schools, entertainment, medical care, and other choices in the New China, the panoply he’s built a career around funding. “We were put in a cage, and we couldn’t fly anywhere,” he says of the old days.

“The cage gradually opened, and the people started to fly. It’s a more open system that makes the difference.” And it’s the folks in the malls and restaurants and private schools who are now proving to be that system’s greatest strength. 

A version of this article appears in the December 2019 issue of Fortune as part of the 2020 Investor’s Guide with the headline “Ahead of China’s Herd.”

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