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John Wu, Ex-Alibaba CTO Turned Investor, Sees Plenty Of Opportunity In Asia

By Russell Flannery


John Wu a decade and a half ago arrived early at one of the world’s most remarkable businesses in recent times: Alibaba Group. He joined as chief technology officer at a time when few outside of China had heard of the company, which has gone on to become an icon — albeit a controversial one – of the country’s large and growing clout in global e-commerce.

Wu, a graduate of the University of Michigan who had been an engineer at Yahoo in Silicon Valley before joining Alibaba, has since moved on to the financial industry, and with his partners at Fenghe Asia in Shanghai manages about $1 billion of funds, mostly for investment in Asia and often with a link to one his best clients, the Singapore government.

In a recent interview in Shanghai with Forbes China managing editor Kang Jian and me, Wu said there is no shortage of  good investment ideas for Asia.  He also believes that pessimistic arguments about China are exaggerated, and there are good stocks to buy in businesses based in the country.  Excepts follow.

Forbes: Why is it a good time to invest in Asia?

Wu:  We invest in the Hong Kong market and China. China is moving up in manufacturing. Many industries in China have decided to leave, and southeastern countries such as Vietnam are the ideal destinations, along with Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. We believe that the next one or two decades would be good for their economies.

 Forbes: What investments are still promising in China?

Wu: We are still relatively optimistic about China. Wall Street is too pessimistic. I hear that there are people on Wall Street who are raising funds that (are) shorting China; they think China (is) going down and will end up like Syria.  We do not see that happening. However, the real estate bubble is very dangerous, and if the real estate industry has problems, all the banks will have problems.

The brighter side is that people are upgrading their consumption. In the past few years, average wages have been increasing, which is why manufacturing in China is having a problems and losing its competitive advantages. When wages are rising, consumers have money. That is why you also see so many Chinese traveling all over the world.

Forbes: How do you invest into that?

Wu: Companies in the travel business like Ctrip (led by his Wu’s wife Jane Sun) are in a good position. The enterprise software sector has been very profitable in the U.S. They improve efficiency for companies, lowering hiring.

Forbes: Who is promising there in China?

Wu: Yonyou. There are also other could computing companies. Alibaba is also one of them, because they have Alicloud. You cannot just invest on Alicloud, and the only way to do that is by investing Alibaba.

Forbes: Have you sold all of your shares in Ali?

Wu: No. Many companies are similar with Alibaba, though, such as JD and Jumei, I think they are going to experience growth. They are taking share away from offline retailers. This trend will continue.

 However, because of my relationship, many people may think I will have some inside information (about Alibaba), which I do not. I am completely away from that information, as I am not a member of the board, nor am I an executive. My partner still says that this would raise questions about related parties; so he is not buying, either.

Forbes: Have you approached Jack Ma for money for your fund?

Wu: He is a good investor himself (smiles).

Read full article here