Better Tidings Come Too Late For China Travel Pioneer Ji Qi

The cut-off line for this year’s China Rich List 400 was $600 million, up $130 million from a year ago. Among those that missed the chance for a comeback was Ji Qi, chairman of Nasdaq-listed China Lodging Group, an operator of more than 1,300 budget hotels mainly under the brand name “Hanting.” Stock price of China Lodging, which Ji owns 44 percent, has lifted 16% since we locked prices for our wealth calculation last Tuesday. With today’s net worth of $639 million, Ji likely would have ranked No.366 on this year’s list.

Despite the close miss, Ji stands out among China’s entrepreneurs for having co-founded three Nasdaq-listed companies in six years, all with market capital above $1 billion. The other two, where Ji is no longer involved with the management, are China’s largest travel booking company and economy hotels operator, International and Home Inns Group. The former company is an investor and partner of Ji’s China Lodging; the latter, a direct competitor. Launching the Hanting brand in 2005, the 47-year-old Ji is determined to make it his last start-up – that ends an entrepreneurial streak which began with scalping desk lamps in his college years.

The stock price surge of China Lodging came after Premier Li Keqiang’s announcement that economic growth in the previous nine months exceeded 7.5%, and Goldman Sachs’ upgrade of the stock to “buy.” A record-number of Chinese traveling in the week-long vacation at the beginning of October—4,300 million, or roughly a quarter of China’s total population—injected another dose of optimism for China’s tourism industry.  The share price has come back down 4% after the company announced preliminary results for the third quarter on Monday, showing flat growth in revenue per available room.

China Lodging’s earnings per share have missed analysts’ estimates in the previous two years amid the Chinese economic slowdown. Its stock price dipped to an all-time low in the second half of 2012. Ji, who was No.210 in 2010 with $710 million, has not been able to make it back since. Fellow co-founder of International, Shen Nanpeng, ranked 250th with $800 million on this year’s list.