Asian Ambition: Aiming High

Handelsblatt Global Edition (2014):

Asian Ambition: Aiming High in Ho Chi Minh City

Horst Geicke´s father thought him too incompetent for the family business. Today, the 58-year-old investor is one of the most successful German entrepreneurs in Asia.

He is the founder of two investment companies that manage about $15 billion, and yet his career almost died before it started – because of cashews. In 1981, Horst Geicke brought back three tons of cashews from his first visit to a trade show in Guangzhou, China, instead of the mushrooms ordered by his father, which were supposed to be processed in his cannery in Hamburg.

When his father reacted with the words “too incompetent for the family business,” Mr. Geicke said, “I went to Hong Kong and tried my luck there.” Today, based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam´s financial metropolis, the 58-year old investor is one of the most prominent German entrepreneurs in the Far East.

Now, the “German tycoon”, as he is called by friends, is creating a monument to himself by building the German House in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon.

The ground-breaking ceremony for the 110-meter (360-foot) high skyscraper took place on Monday. The project would never have happened without Mr. Geicke.

When the investor discovered that the German government had owned a 3,500 square meter (3,767 square feet) piece of land in one of the best parts of the city since 1960, but did not use it, he alerted politicians and officials.

He campaigned for a rededication of the usable area, which was originally meant for diplomatic purposes. At the same time, he canvassed the socialist municipal government about getting the ground returned, even though a shopping center had been built on the site.

Things did not look good for a long time. German diplomats shied away from it, urging him to “let sleeping dogs lie”. After winning the European Union-wide call for bids to develop the plot last year, Mr.Geicke and his partner Bernd Dietel raised almost $100 million to build the 28-storey residential and commercial building, which will boast almost 40,000 square meters of space.

The skyscraper “presents a quantum leap in the sustainability of building technology in Asia with its carefully devised cooling system,” said Thomas Herbert, the project manager. The building will be built as a public-private partnership. Starting in 2017, the German consul will move in, some German institutions like the Goethe Institute, and some small-to-medium sized enterprises (SME).

Mr. Geicke´s projects have almost always been successful. Just five years after the cashews episode, the man from Hamburg built up production in China for Puma, Hugo Boss and other brands. Today around 2,000 workers in China and Vietnam are making dolls for Mattel, under Geicke´s management.

He is an investor and fund manager in nine different companies. He founded the Pacific Alliance Group (PAG) in 2000 with an investment of $200 million. Today, five partners manage its $12 billion in funds, and it is one of the largest investment companies in Asia.

After accompanying Helmut Kohl, the former German chancellor, on his first trip to Vietnam in 1995, the Asia expert recognized that the socialist country in South Asia stood on the edge of a boom, just like China. In 2003, with $5 million of his own money, he founded VinaCapital, a corporation that invested in the Vietnamese stock and real estate market. Three years later, the fund´s assets had grown to over $2 billion.

His recipe for success is that he is never the first to venture into difficult markets. He prefers cherry-picking, usually after the first wave of bankruptcies hits a newly industrializing country.

He also hates yes-men: “Without opposition from reliable people onsite, I never would have gotten this far,” Mr. Geicke said.

In private, the star investor has had plenty of strife. The divorce battle with his Chinese wife filled the Hong-Kong gossip columns for years. She was awarded more than 50 percent of his assets, which has so far prevented Mr. Geicke from being included in the “Forbes” rich list for the Chinese banking metropolis.

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Asian Ambition: Aiming High