Xinmao Chairman Du Kerong (left) answers questions during a news briefing alongside his financial adviser, Joop Krant, in Amsterdam on Monday. Xinmao Group will press ahead with a $1.3 billion bid for Dutch cable maker Draka Holding NV. [Photo / Reuters]BEIJING - Du Kerong, the man behind the Chinese surprise 1-billion-euro ($1.3 billion) bid for the Dutch cable maker Draka, has led a turbocharged life that has seen him rise from humble origins to senior air force officer and entrepreneur, getting by on as little as four hours of sleep a night.
The 55-year-old Du is also renowned for stamina when entertaining business associates, and is able to down glasses of Chinese rice wine in a single gulp, a former colleague recalled. "Even if we had the courage for that, we wouldn't have the stomach," he said.
Du's gutsy manner was on display in a surprise announcement last week when his flagship Xinmao Group offered to buy Draka Holding NV, the world's fifth-largest maker of steel cables, which had already agreed to be acquired by Italy's Prysmian Group for 840 million euros ($1.11 billion).
Some said the fast-talking Du, who was in Amsterdam last week promoting the deal, may be relying on his deep pool of energy and charisma to elbow aside Prysmian, the world's second-largest cable maker by revenue, and earlier French suitor Nexans, the world's largest, to pull off the deal.
"He's a good talker and a clear thinker," said a former Xinmao employee who worked closely with Du, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Sometimes his thoughts move so fast that subordinates can't keep up with him."
Born in eastern China's Jiangsu province, Du joined the military at 17 and the Party a year later, according to a biography published by the municipal government of Tianjin, where Xinmao is based.
He rose through the ranks to become a senior air force officer before leaving the military in 1992 to try his hand in the private sector.
Du set up a construction materials company called Xinmao that year, which evolved into Xinmao Real Estate and later the Xinmao Group. Today Xinmao employs more than 30,000 and has more than 100 subsidiaries in construction, real estate, hotels, fiber optics, software and other high-tech fields.
"His family was destitute and had nothing," said a senior executive currently at Xinmao, also speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk about his boss. "Now, employees see him as farsighted and wise, and very persistent in his projects."
The executive also characterized Du as a hustling entrepreneur who has poured his heart and soul into his company.
"When business was the toughest, around 1998 to 2000, he'd sell his car in order to buy materials for projects, which he would finish on time," he said.
For the few hours of sleep he manages after workdays of up to 20 hours, Du has attached a bedroom to his office in the industrial port city of Tianjin, about 120 km from Beijing, said the former employee.
Du prefers his office in the upscale Xinmao Tiancai Hotel to his desk at headquarters, a long-serving employee at the Xinmao compound said.
He is also realistic enough to recognize that he over-centralizes authority in himself and micromanages too much, according to the former colleague.
"He'd pull me aside and talk about how he neglected areas of management," he said.