Calm, reserved and soft-spoken, Wang Chaoyong may not strike you as the 'King of Investing' and 'Father of Sailing', two titles bestowed on him in China. After a little more time with him, his seeming aloofness begins to give way to the warmth and passion underneath.
It's apparent that of all the projects in a diverse portfolio of investments ranging from information technology, renewable energy, and health care, to real estate, consumer products and entertainment, he is most proud of China Team, contending for the 34th America's Cup. Behind that pride, though, is a passion for the sea and a pursuit much larger, deeper and more personal than the potential for economic return. Water permeates all three characters of his name.
Ironically, born in the inland province of Hubei, he had never seen the sea until he was 20 years old. However, once he experienced the blue, infinite expanse of water, it became an all-encompassing mission in life. He now identifies his own personality with the ocean: both mountainous waves and vast serenity.
From the youngest-ever country head in Morgan Stanley's history, to investing in Baidu, the no 1 Chinese search engine, Wang Chaoyong is no stranger to monumental challenges. The America's Cup competition, however, gives him both an even greater challenge, and a more gratifying opportunity.
On the last day of America's Cup World Series debut in Cascais, I interviewed Wang Chaoyong just before the final, winner-takes-all race characteristic of the oldest trophy in international sport. I wanted to better understand what America's Cup means to him and what he was feeling at that very moment. Among the nine teams competing, including the world's best, such as Oracle Racing and Emirates New Zealand, China Team is the only one with a double duty - not only to strive for best possible performance in races, but also to train Chinese sailors. Race practice time is therefore split in half.
Wang Chaoyong wouldn't have it any other way, though. To him, it is not about owning a boat with a China flag, even when it's the world's fastest and most technologically advanced. It is about catalyzing a 'nautical renaissance' and seaward culture for the nation. That begins with nurturing Chinese sailors. By the America's Cup Finals in 2013 in San Francisco, China Team aims to have Chinese sailors make up a majority of the crew.
Nevertheless, Wang Chaoyong has no illusions of immediate success. Culture is slow to build, and human skills are acquired with nothing but experience. He is fully aware that the team will still need to rely on international sailors for key positions such as skipper, which take years, if not decades, of racing experience to develop world class talent. He is paving the road for another generation to come.
As for ocean economics and nautical appreciation back home in China, he can do what he does best - sow the seeds, water diligently, and inspire their growth. But the blue Silk Road he is navigating may also be more for the next generation to benefit than for his own. ??On the other hand, China has no shortage of fast-learning and hard-working talents. Be it sailors or young entrepreneurs, they may just surprise the world sooner, rather than later. In the meantime, Wang Chaoyong and his China Team fight on. [Without Mitch Booth. Ed]
After all, that is what America's Cup is about, and the trophy serves as a beacon for their dreams.