Executive Insights

Meet Hui Ka Yan, the billionaire at head of Evergrande, the massive Chinese property development company

Business Insider US
China Evergrande Group Chairman of the Board Hui Ka-yan attends China Evergrande Group 2016 Annual Results at Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong in Admiralty.

  • Hui Ka Yan is the founder and chairman of property giant Evergrande.
  • He was born in a rural village and worked in the steel industry before founding Evergrande in 1997.
  • While his company is now $300 billion in debt, Hui has made $5.3 billion in dividends over the last four years.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider.

Evergrande, China's second biggest property developer, is $300 billion in debt - the largest amount of debt of any company in the world.

An Evergrande housing complex.

Property giant Evergrande is teetering on the edge on defaulting on $300 billion worth of loans that it took to build projects it can't sell off.

With over 1,300 real estate projects and 7.3 billion square feet of contracted land, Evergrande's possible collapse has experts worried that it could rattle the entire Chinese economy in one fell swoop.

Some are calling it China's potential "Lehman Brothers" moment.

But while the company continues to sag under the weight of its liabilities, its chairman and founder, the billionaire Hui Ka Yan, has been earning billions from Evergrande.

Keep scrolling to find out more about Hui Ka Yan.

Hui Ka Yan was worth $27.7 billion in March, though he's lost a substantial amount of that wealth since.

Hui Ka Yan, 62, was worth $27.7 billion in March, according to a Forbes billionaire list that placed him as the 53rd richest man in the world.

But after Evergrande's stock plunged 80% this year, he lost a significant amount of his wealth.

Accounts vary at the total loss. Forbes estimates he's now worth $11.1 billion. Meanwhile, Bloomberg's billionaire index puts his net worth at $7.5 billion after he lost $15.8 billion of his fortune this year.

Either way, he's still exceedingly rich. 

Hui, whose name is Xu Jiayin in Chinese Mandarin, has also been a professor at his alma mater, the Wuhan University of Science and Technology, since 2003. 

He's currently married to Ding Yumei, a woman from a well-off family whom he met while working one of his first jobs at an iron and steel company, according to local media outlet Sports QQ. The couple has two children, and lives in Shenzhen, China.

He grew up in a rural village in the Chinese province of Henan and came from a working-class family.

Evergrande Group Chairman Hui Ka Yan (C) attends Evergrande New Energy Auto Global Strategic Partners Summit on November 12, 2019 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China.

Hui was born on October 9, 1958, in a rural village of 50,000 people in China's Henan province. His father was a retired soldier who fought in the Second Sino-Japanese War in the 1930s to 1940s and later worked in a warehouse, according to an article posted to the news arm of Sina.

When he graduated high school, he worked at a cement factory and his father's warehouse, before starting his university education at the Wuhan Institute of Iron and Steel in 1978, where he studied metallurgy, the outlet reported.

Hui worked for 10 years at a steel factory in the 1980s, before founding Evergrande.

A worker monitors next to an oven during a government organised tour at a Tiangong International plant, makers of high quality steel and tools, in Zhenjiang in China's eastern Jiangsu province on October 12, 2020.

After graduating from college, Hui was assigned to work at a heat treatment shop in Wuyang Iron and Steel Company, where he met his wife. 

He rose quickly through the ranks, and was promoted to director of the company in 1985, according to Sports QQ.

After working 10 years there, Hui resigned in 1992 and moved to Shenzhen, where he took up leadership positions in a trading company.

In 1996, he moved to the city of Guangzhou and founded the Evergrande Group, as China began its rapid urbanization and its housing market started to grow.

In 2020, Evergrande drew in around $76 billion in revenue.

Workers walk in front of the Evergrande headquarters in Shenzhen, southeastern China on September 26, 2021.

Hui focused his company mostly on building high-rise apartments, taking loans to build at low costs, and then selling them off-plan, meaning investors and buyers could purchase the properties before they're built. 

Under Hui, Evergrande was raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue a year by the time it went public in 2009 on the Hong Kong stock exchange.

By 2020, Evergrande was hauling in $76 billion a year in revenue and $18 billion in gross profit, and had expanded its real estate empire to 280 cities, per its annual report. It currently has around 200,000 full-time employees , and according to its website, claims to have generated around 3.8 million jobs in China.

But its debts also piled up. The company started borrowing more, racking up $200 billion worth of liabilities from 2014 to 2020 alone, according to company reports.

In the same time frame, Hui grew his fortune by $30 billion, partially off dividends while his company became more indebted.

Hui Ka Yan, a member of the CPPCC National Committee and chairman of Evergrande Group, attends a press conference at the fifth session of the 12th CPPCC National Committee on March 9, 2017 in Beijing, China

As Evergrande's liabilities started accelerating in 2014, so did Hui's wealth. He grew his fortune to a peak $36.2 billion in 2019, according to Forbes, the same year Evergrande's debts jumped $42.8 billion.

Hui, who owns 71% of Evergrande's shares, has been paid $8 billion in dividends in the last 10 years, reported Forbes. He received $5.3 billion of these dividends from 2017 to 2020, when Evergrande's debt started burgeoning to the $300 billion it is today.

Even if the value of his shares in Evergrande reaches zero, the fortune he has made from his dividends would still make him one of the 100 richest men in China, noted Forbes reporter Hank Tucker.

Hui diversified Evergrande, diving into soccer, bottled water, and an amusement park.

Guangzhou Evergrande FC playing its opponents in the AFC Champions League.

Hui's ambitions didn't stop at real estate. He acquired a soccer team from Guangzhou in 2010, and hired World Cup-winning managers Marcello Lippi and Luiz Felipie Scolari.

The team, called Guangzhou Evergrande FC, has won the Asian Football Confederation's Champions League twice — in 2013 and 2015, and has gotten first place in the Chinese Super League eight times in the last decade. It was also the first Asian club to be listed for an IPO in China in 2015, but has recently been hit with losses and plans to delist itself, reported Bloomberg.

Evergrande has also made forays into the bottled water market, and owns a 49% stake in Evergrande Spring, which sells water in 500,000 locations around China, according to its 2020 annual report.

Among its other investments, including stakes in tourism, healthcare, and finance, it's building an amusement park that Hui said in Evergrande's report combines "physical amusement and online entertainment." Called Evergrande Fairyland, it's meant to cater to kids below 15.

He wants to beat Tesla on the new-energy car market.

The Hengchi car launched by Evergrande in April.

Hui might also be looking to challenge Elon Musk's Tesla as a leader in the energy vehicle market. In 2019, Evergrande renamed its healthcare arm to Evergrande Auto and spent billions in research and development for its creation of 14 car models, per its annual report.

A year later, it unveiled six electric car models, vowing to become the world's leading electric vehicle producer within five years.

Dubbed the "Hengchi" line, the cars range from SUVs to sedans. But by April, Evergrande Auto still hadn't reached a stage where it could start selling the cars, reported Bloomberg.

On Monday, it announced it would put on hold its plans for a listing on the Chinese market, while Evergrande as a whole deals with its debt issues, according to Nikkei.

Hui's Evergrande group has been rebuked by Chinese officials, but he doesn't seem to be under fire at the moment.

Professor Hui Ka Yan (centre), Chairman of the Board, Evergrande Real Estate Group, attends the Company's interim results announcement 2015 press conference at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, Central.

According to Evergrande's annual report, Hui is a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference — an official group of Communist party members who advise the Chinese government and its legislative bodies. As such, he's generally avoided trouble with Beijing.

When Evergrande's debt problems started to surface and the company began making headlines, China's top regulators sent out a rare reprimand to the real estate company in August, telling it to fix its loan issues and to stop spreading "untrue" information.

But just a month before that, Hui was photographed posing at Tiananmen Square at China's 100-year anniversary, a sign that he was invited by the ruling party and still remains in good standing.

Still, Montreal-based researchers who study Chinese elite politics told The Financial Times that being extended an invitation to the anniversary meant that Hui is on leader Xi Jinping's "radar," which usually bodes bad news.

Evergrande and Hui Ka Yan's representatives did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.

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