Pan Shiyi. [File photo]
In China's property circles, Pan Shiyi is a legendary figure. He looks shy and unassuming, but is actually an extremely unconventional and dynamic businessman.
Born in China's countryside, he became Chairman and Co-CEO of SOHO China, a real estate development company that has been pushing the architectural envelope in Beijing by hiring high-profile foreign architects to design their apartment buildings.
China Central Television or CCTV, the largest and most famous television network in China, has described Pan as "the most eye-catching real estate developer, though he is not the richest". He is so famous in Beijing that even street-boys know his name.
Why he is so famous?
The most important reason has to be his bold, unconventional and modern projects.
Pan Shiyi has his unique understanding of how an ideal Chinese home looks. The Beijing real estate developer wanted to paint the outside of his proposed apartment complex in bright primary colors. His projects range from mixed-use business venues in the Central Business District of Beijing to river-front luxury villas in South China's Hainan province and contemporary private houses designed by avante garde Asian architects.
Pan Shiyi drew much attention through his Soho New Town project. Soho means Small Office, Home Office. He even created the slogan: "Are you ready to Soho?" and this project became synonymous with the latest housing trends.
The designs showcase simple lines and big windows - very different from many other middle-class mainland apartments. To further cater to the Chinese market, Pan added some features that are helpful but often absent when local architects simply copy Western designs. For example, the kitchens are equipped with extra-strong fans to suck up stir-fry smells. And there is the option to subdivide the flat into many smaller rooms, so an apartment can fit the three generations that often crowd into a Chinese home.
The multihued complex of apartments and offices in eastern Beijing has since been regarded as an ideal office and residential housing project.
It seems that anyone who does not "Soho" is out of touch. What Soho brings is not only a new design theory, but also a new lifestyle.
Another reason why he merits the chattering of the public is that Pan Shiyi is a tireless self-promoter.
Unlike other traditional Chinese businessmen, Pan Shiyi often makes his presence felt on TV, on the internet, in newspapers and even in a film named "Aspirin". Actually as a star in the business world, he is somehow gathering his fame in the entertainment circle.
As a clever businessman, he appositely opened his personal blog on sina.com, China's leading internet portal in 2005. 18 months later, his blog had joined the top six among sina's 1 million bloggers, luring 34 million hits.
Pan Shiyi pays great attention to communication.
"Communication is another form of writing. Articles are read every minute, by any people. If you make a mistake, the readers will point it out soon".
What's more, the sharp contrast between Pan Shiyi's poor background and his current status always arouses people's curiosity. Pan's marriage was once the topic of the town. It presents him as a model of success through hard struggle and diligence.
Pan Shiyi was born in a small village in Gansu Province in China's Northwest. He graduated from an unknown college. However, this man captured the heart of a well-bred woman, Zhang Xin, who became his wife. Zhang Xin had received her master's degree from Cambridge University in the UK. When Pan Shiyi met her, she was working for a famous company in Wall Street, with a salary of over one hundred thousand US dollars.
Pan Shiyi fell in love with Zhang Xin at first sight and believed that she was the one he wanted to marry. He proposed to her 4 days after they first knew of each other. 3 days later Zhang Xin said yes.
"We talked about the marriage for 3 to 4 days, and made the decision on the 7th day".
It was a happy memory to recall from time to time, though different voices from their friends were all jumping towards them, especially Zhang's friends. They thought Pan Shiyi could hardly deserve Zhang Yin who had to give up everything in the United States and come back to China with her future husband.
As it turned out, they made a perfect match. They are good business partners at work as well. Pan Shiyi once said that his wife was in charge of building houses while he himself was selling them. On September 7, 2002, the couples' project "Commune by the Great Wall" won the Venice Biennial Special Prize, for their promotion of architecture.
Obviously, Pan Shiyi is enjoying both creating houses and a colorful life.