Posted on January 8, 2014
Chen Guangbiao, the Chinese recycling tycoon who last week expressed interest in buying a $1 billion stake in the New York Times CO., said he is no longer pursuing a deal.
In an interview with Forbes in New York on Tuesday, Chen said he had scheduled a meeting on Jan. 5 with “a small shareholder” of the Times who was introduced to him by a Chinese-American friend and supposedly would help “coordinate the deal from the top.” The meeting was canceled, however, because Chen’s premature announcement and the ensuing media attention angered the friend and shareholder, said Chen.
On Dec. 30, at an award ceremony in Shenzhen, Chen revealed his plan to travel to New York to “negotiate the acquisition” of the company. The news immediately attracted a flood of ridicule and criticism because Chen, with no experience in the media industry, vowed to repair the Times’ image in China and put the paper “on every newsstand across the country.” Both the English and Chinese language Websites of the New York Times have been blocked in China since the paper’s story on the wealth of former Premier Wen Jiabao’s family in October 2012.
Chen’s disclosure sent the Times Company’s stock soaring. The price rose 4% to a five-year high of $16.09 on Dec. 30 but has slipped back down 4.5%. Shares were trading at $15.23 this afternoon.
Chen has made a fortune from recycling construction materials and domestic waste in China. He said he’s now looking at the $240 million demolition of the old eastern span of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, which was damaged by an earthquake in 1989 and was recently replaced by a new suspension bridge. One contract has been awarded to two California companies for roughly $90 million, while two remaining contracts will be advertised later this year. Chen could bid as long as his company becomes a licensed contractor in California and is insured, says Caltrans spokesman Mark Dinger.
Chen said he has not made contact with the California government, though he plans to visit San Francisco in the next few days. He said his Jiangsu Huangpu Recycling Resources, an unlisted company, undertook 200 demolition projects in the past year and recorded $50 million profit on $1.6 billion in revenue. Chen owns the entire outfit and Forbes estimates his wealth at $400 million.
Chen first came into spotlight in China in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, where he personally rescued 13 people and carried some 200 victims’ bodies from the debris. He later made a series of high-profile and at times eccentric philanthropic efforts, including giving away red envelops of cash on the streets of Taiwan and literally piling up $5 million of cash to award young Chinese entrepreneurs. Forbes Asia chose him as one of the Asia Pacific Region’s 48 leading philanthropists in both 2008 and 2009.
His latest effort involves two women who said they are former Falun Gong practitioners who believed that self-immolation was the path to heaven and set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square in 2001. They firmly denounce Falun Gong and will receive skin-transplant treatments, estimated to cost between $2.5 million and $5 million, at Chen’s expense in New York. (Erping Zhang, a spokesman at the Falun Dafa Information Center in New York, disputed their story, noting that “Falun Gong’s teachings explicitly prohibit killing and suicide.”)
At Tuesday morning’s press conference in New York where he announced the purpose of his U.S. trip, Chen performed a five-minute song titled “My Chinese Dream.” He said he wrote the lyrics himself. For a taste of the philanthropist’s singing skills, see the video below.