After earning a small scholarship studying physics and working part time, Shi, in 2001, persuaded the city of Wuxi to start a company with him. Now, Shi owns a stake of something like $1.7 billion in his company, Suntech, one of the world’s biggest producers of solar power equipment.
Here are some of the attributes that aided Shi’s ascent:
- Persuasion skills. Along the way, Shi persuaded the original shareholders to divest so he could find overseas backers and take the firm public. Shi showed those skills early on, talking his way into becoming a doctoral assistant, even though he had no experience with solar-cell research.
- Focus and hard work. Within six months, Shi had made breakthroughs by working alone late into the night. After earning his doctorate in 1992, he became research director in an Australian company that marketed his innovations.
- Good timing. When a friend told him that China was looking to lure business people home, Shi came up with the idea of coupling first-world solar technology with third-world Chinese labor. He wrote a 200-page business plan. Shopping it around to several cities, he settled on a 25 percent stake with Wuxi, near Shanghai, and launched Suntech in 2001.
- Willingness to innovate. As the business took off, Shi faced a new challenge: how to lead a rapidly growing company through making and paying bills. The business was growing so fast that Shi revamped the manufacturing process to reduce automation because labor was cheaper. He also scrapped around for the cheapest new and used gear.
After six months, they bit, and Shi struck gold again. In 2005, oil prices soared and so did Suntech. Its investors seized the moment to go public.
Shi’s new goal is to make the company a real multinational. The time is right, he says: “The soil is rich.”
—Adapted from “For Chinese Tycoon, Solar Power Fuels Overnight Wealth,” Andrew Batson, The Wall Street Journal.