Chelsea_SunChelsea_Sun ・ Jun. 5, 2024
$8 Billion Fujianese Business Network Behind A Grand Wedding
This marriage between the heir and heiress of two enterprises is undoubtedly a strategic move, enabling the two to complement resources and fend off risks together, with far-reaching implications for both families.

TMTPOST--In the bustling city of Jinjiang, southeastern China’s Fujian province, two high-profile consumer goods companies -- Septwolves and Xtep -- stand tall, with their names synonymous with wealth and success. The children of the founders of the two enterprises have staged a real-life version of a romance from school uniforms to wedding gowns. 

On the evening of June 1, Xtep Group's "little princess" Ding Jiamin announced the wedding news on her social media platform. Beside her was the groom, Zhou Liyuan, the second son of Septwolves, in a photo posted on social media.

The wedding news quickly became the topic of the nation as the products of the two firms are sold across China. Was it just a well-matched couple? Was there a business merger behind the wedding? In the local business world, such unions among the second generation of tycoon families are not uncommon.

Actually in China, both spouses often play significant roles in their family businesses after their wedding, challenging traditional gender roles and showcasing respect for women's contributions in the business world.

Public records show that Ding, born in 1997, is the second daughter of sport shoes company Xtep founder Ding Shuibo. She currently manages Xtep’s 2021-launched women's line, the "Half Sugar Series," engaging in every link from research to marketing, and even modeling for the products.

Ding actively leads Xtep’s initiatives and uses short video platforms to share her personal life as a successor, through daily vlogs, her moments with Zhou, and product recommendations. She boasts over 700,000 followers on popular short-video platform Douyin and nearly 200,000 on social media platform Xiaohongshu, with millions of likes and interactions.

On the contrary, Zhou maintains a lower profile. Born in 1996, he is the second son of Septwolves founder. He studied Art History at the University of Toronto and joined Septwolves in 2018. As the head of Septwolves' Wolf Totem line, he now serves as an assistant general manager at Fujian Septwolves Industrial Co., overseeing the operation and strategic direction of their investment in French luxury brand Karl Lagerfeld.

In the third year after Zhou took over, Karl Lagerfeld achieved its first profitability in 2021, with sales revenue of 279 million yuan, a year-on-year increase of 107.32%. The brand shifted from a net loss of 22.18 million yuan in 2020 to a profit of 11.2 million yuan in 2021. However, the brand experienced a loss of 18.86 million yuan in 2022, followed by a modest profit of 370,000 yuan in 2023, indicating highly volatile profitability.

The connection between Xtep and Septwolves predates this recent union. In 2015, the two companies co-invested in the Cross-Strait Youth (Xiamen) Equity Investment Fund Management Company, with Septwolves and a company associated with Xtep each holding a 33.3% stake. Additionally, they have joint investments in several other companies.

Both companies performed well in 2023. Septwolves, primarily in the menswear business, reported a revenue of 3.445 billion yuan, a 6.7% increase year-over-year, with a net profit of 270 million yuan, up 79.3%. Xtep, a leading sports brand, reported a revenue of 14.346 billion yuan, a 10.9% increase, and a net profit of 1.03 billion yuan, up 11.8%, both setting historical records.

This marriage between the heir and heiress of two enterprises is undoubtedly a strategic move, enabling the two to complement resources and fend off risks together, with far-reaching implications for both families.

Fujian businessmen often rely on blood ties and family cohesion, with marriages being a routine. Besides Septwolves and Xtep, companies like Anta, Jomoo, Ba Ma Tea, and Gaoli Group have long-established "marriage circles." Each is a giant in its industry, and their family matters, such as marriages, can significantly influence their business trajectories.

In 2022, media reports mapped out the intricate marriage connections among six major families behind Anta, Xtep, Ba Ma Tea, Gaoli Group, Septwolves, and Jomoo, which are all big brand names across China, revealing a combined wealth exceeding 60 billion yuan (about $8 billion).

In 2020, the marriage between Xtep's eldest daughter Ding Lizhi and Lin Xiaowei, Senior Vice President of Jomoo Group, was thrust into the limelight. Their wedding, held at the Xiamen International Conference Center, was reportedly planned by a team that worked on weddings like those of China’s A-list entertainment stars Huang Xiaoming and Angelababy.

In early 2022, Ba Ma Tea's IPO filing disclosed the marriage ties between its major shareholders and three other listed companies, including Anta, Septwolves, and Gaoli Group.

Back in 2020, another major union took place when Ding Lizhi, the eldest daughter of Xtep's founder, married Lin Xiaowei, Senior Vice President of Fujian-headquartered Jomoo Group. Born in 1993, Lin Xiaowei is the eldest son of Lin Xiaofa, the founder of privately-held Jomoo Group.

Earlier that same year, Wang Kunheng, son of Wang Wenbin, one of the controlling shareholders of Ba Ma Tea Co., married Ding Siqing, daughter of Ding Shizhong, Chairman of sportswear Anta Group's Board of Directors. Ba Ma Tea Co. is a prominent family-run tea retailer and one of China's largest producers and sellers of Tieguanyin tea.

Wang Wenbin's daughters, Wang Jialin and Wang Jiajia, have also had their marriages in the spotlight. Wang Jialin is married to Zhou Shiyuan, whose father, Zhou Yongwei, is a director and one of the actual controllers of Septwolves. Zhou Yongwei is also the Chairman of the Board of Fujian Septwolves Group Co., Ltd. Wang Jiajia's husband, Gao Li, is the Chairman of Gao Li Group , a company founded in 1995 by his father, Gao Shijun. Gao Li Group is a comprehensive industry operator headquartered in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province.

Through marriage, Fujian enterprises can forge closer connections, share resources, and reinforce strengths. Marriages also boost the clout and visibility of Fujian businesses, promoting their prosperity. Moreover, these unions help family members collaborate closely, creating a larger business network to tackle challenges and drive enterprise development. The marriage of Ding Jiamin and Zhou Liyuan exemplifies this strategic approach, showcasing their complementary strengths in the apparel industry.

Su Wenjing, Dean and Chief Expert of the Fujianese Entrepreneurs Culture Research Institute at Fuzhou University, noted that these entrepreneurs often belong to the same social circles, making it natural for their children to find marriage partners within the familiar networks.

She emphasized that the essence of marriage often aligns with the principle of "matching social status." Whether it’s Anta, Septwolves, or other companies, both the first generation of entrepreneurs and their children live within the same cultural and social strata.

Yang Yiqing, Executive President of the Business Seminar Zhejiang, sees positive implications in these alliances. He argues that marriages among entrepreneurs' children generally guarantee marital stability due to similar family backgrounds, which foster mutual understanding. Additionally, these unions create a tightly-knit community of interests between the families, potentially providing greater resilience against business risks and facilitating access to resources and financing.

However, Yang also cautioned about potential risks. Similar family backgrounds might reduce the propensity for compromise, a vital aspect of any marriage. Besides, the union of high-status families, even if initially based on genuine affection, might unavoidably carry commercial interests, adding pressure to the marriage. He suggests that maintaining a balance between personal and professional aspects is crucial for these high-profile unions to succeed, achieving both business and marital harmony.

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