60 Minutes: Soho China Office Buildings & Real Estate Mogul Zhang Xin

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60 Minutes: China’s Real Estate Mogul

Soho China mogul Zhang Xin is an icon for the progress that China has made coming out of communism, according to Lesley Stahl. The country now has the world’s second largest economy, and she breaks the mold of American conceptions about China.

60 Minutes: Zhang Xin Soho China

Lesley Stahl is the “fifth-richest self-made billionaire in the world,” and “she has built more of Beijing than almost any emperor in China’s history.” Stahl visited the country to survey Xin’s vast holdings, which are part of her company, Soho China.

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Xin got her start in business on Wall Street before returning to China. She is focused on design for buildings that compare to any other world metropolis. She said that she feels the responsibility of what she is doing, and its effect on the city around her.

60 Minutes: Soho China Office Buildings

60 Minutes: Soho China Office Buildings & Real Estate Mogul Zhang Xin

Chinese real estate mogul Zhang Xin is the self-made billionaire behind one of China’s fastest growing companies. (TonyV3112 / Shutterstock.com)

Xin said that “enormous scale” is part of China’s character, and 60 Minutes visited a work site for one of her upcoming building. All that development has spurred job growth, but it has also led to concern over possible overbuilding.

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Zhang Xin said that she focuses solely on office buildings, in Beijing and Shanghai. She said that she thinks residential development is tapped out for China. She also thinks that retail shops are on the decline in her country, but office continues to perform well.

60 Minutes: Zhang Xin Billionaire

She told 60 Minutes that no one can predict the future of anything, but her business instincts have paid off handsomely in the past, and she is trusting them by focusing on office buildings.

At 47, she is a celebrity in China, but she recalls her humble beginnings, seeing herself as an example of opportunity in the country, which she said has produced “more self-made billionaires than any other country in the world.”

60 Minutes: Zhang Xin Childhood

Lesley Stahl noted that this sounds like the American Dream. Xin was born during the country’s cultural revolution. Her parents were sent to the Chinese countryside at a “re-education camp,” but eventually the country’s communist philosophy gave way to capitalism.

Xin grew up homeless at times, and was once forced to sleep in the office where her mother worked as a translator. By age 14, Xin moved to Hong Kong to find work, landing in sweatshops for five years. “I look at those as a different chapter in life,” she recalled.

60 Minutes: Zhang Xin Goldman Sachs

By saving money, she purchased a one-way ticket to London and got away. She traveled with a wok, but ended up selling fish and chips in England. Xin was overwhelmed and unfamiliar in her new place.

But the story had a happy ending. She learned English, attended Sussex, and got her master’s degree in economics from Cambridge. In 1992, she got a job with Goldman Sachs and had the chance to return to China as an investment banker.

60 Minutes: Pan Shiyi Soho China

She said that she felt there was idealism missing from her career as an investment banker, and missed what she had learned being raised in an earlier era of China.

Pan Shiyi, her future husband, reminded her of those ideals and talked to her about the future of real estate in China. Xin was impressed with his aspirations, which have now come true.

60 Minutes: Soho China

Countless projects the sizes of neighborhoods have been built in the last two decades, since the couple got together. They decided to get married in just four days, and started their new lives together in a new company, all on their own.

But they clashed repeatedly as they tried to forge a path combining eastern and western philosophies. Xin briefly fled back to England, but soon returned. Her solution was to leave the office and focus on their family.

60 Minutes: Democracy In China?

Eventually, the success of the company drove her back to the office. Now that they were a success with a growing family, they found an equanimity. Their division of labor has led to a Soho China boasting $10 billion in assets.

The country is rife with corruption, Xin said, and tends to follow the power wherever it goes. She said that the company focuses on transparent transactions, such as auctions.

Though the company is on the rise, Xin said the country still has strides to make toward becoming a democracy. Though the US system is not perfect, she sees it as an ideal to work toward, and predicts that it could arrive within the next 20 years.

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