Goldman TMT China Head Xiaoyin Zhang Is Looking for the Next Big Thing

Xiaoyin Zhang has worked on landmark IPOs by Chinese technology companies Alibaba Group Holding, Baidu and Tencent Holdings.

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At Goldman Sachs Group, Xiaoyin Zhang played a key role in the bank’s pivot from advising Chinese state-owned enterprises to backing the country’s most exciting start-ups. As Goldman’s head of telecom, media and technology for China since 2009, she’s keen to share the secret of her success.

When Hong Kong–based Zhang joined the firm in 2002, its Chinese investment banking client base was purely telecom, she says. A year later she led the initial public offering of Tencent Holdings, Goldman’s first Internet IPO in the country. “Since then I’ve always been focused on finding emerging companies,” says Zhang, 44. “So I tell our younger colleagues to go out and meet with your contemporaries, because that’s how you’ll find the next generation of companies and build your own career.”

Zhang was named a Goldman partner in 2014 after working on the team that led the $25 billion IPO of Alibaba Group Holding — the e-commerce titan founded by Jack Ma in which her firm was an early investor — on the New York Stock Exchange.

As if following that act weren’t hard enough, a domestic slowdown, combined with a global slump in commodities prices, has since slammed the brakes on Chinese capital markets activity. Zhang led the $248 million flotation of IMAX China last October, a rare bright spot in a lean year when volatility dragged down equity valuations, making it less attractive for companies to go public, and Beijing froze IPOs for four months in an effort to slow plunging stock prices. Goldman ranked tenth for fees from Chinese underwriting and mergers and acquisitions advice in 2015, according to Dealogic, earning $23 million, versus second place in 2014, when it earned $127 million.

Born in Beijing to parents who were academics at Peking University, Zhang earned a BA in accounting and finance from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1995. Before graduation she won a spot at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study for an MBA but deferred entry and headed back to China, where she began cold-calling investment banks.

Zhang soon landed a job with Deutsche Bank in its Beijing representative office but quickly became frustrated that she was too often accompanying bosses to meetings rather than working on deals with companies. So in 1996 she joined Peregrine Capital, the brokerage arm of Peregrine Investments Holdings, as an analyst in the corporate finance department, gaining much hands-on deal experience at what was then Hong Kong’s busiest IPO bank. A year later she returned to the U.S. to complete her MBA before heading to Wall Street in 1999 to become an associate in the global communications group of Merrill Lynch & Co.’s investment banking division.

In mid-2001, seeing the growth potential of the Internet sector back home, Zhang applied to Goldman’s Hong Kong office. As an associate with the corporate finance group, she quickly lent her expertise to China’s new breed of digital entrepreneurs when the bank took a call from an investor in Tencent looking for advice on a potential public offering. “We pitched and won the IPO without meeting the company,” she recalls.

Victory came down to Goldman’s decision to use a structure called a variable interest entity, or VIE, which allowed investors to get around Beijing’s prohibitions against foreign ownership of Internet assets. “It was the first time the Hong Kong stock exchange accepted the VIE structure,” Zhang says.

In 2004 she advised China Netcom Group Corp., the country’s second-largest fixed-line provider, on its HK$8.87 billion ($1.14 billion) flotation in Hong Kong and New York. That same year Zhang was introduced to Robin Li, co-founder of Internet search engine Baidu, through a family friend; in 2005 she secured Goldman as co-underwriter on Baidu’s Nasdaq Stock Market listing, the first in the U.S. by a pure-play Chinese search engine provider. The stock rose 354 percent on its first full day of trading, making it the most successful American debut in five years.

“Xiaoyin is an experienced and well-regarded banker who understands the industry exceptionally well and leverages her considerable institutional resources to meet the needs of her clients,” says Baidu CFO Jennifer Li.

To make up for the IPO slump, Zhang is looking at other opportunities, such as helping emerging companies to find private funding. Last year Goldman set up a private placement business in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, Alibaba and other tech players that Zhang built her career with are hunting for acquisitions. “The current wave of outbound M&A by Chinese TMT is much more significant and sustainable than in the past,” she says. “Chinese domestic companies are now much more comfortable operating overseas, and the emphasis now is on bringing technology and brands back to China.”

Zhang likes to step off the deal treadmill by visiting places of great historical significance, such as the Italian city of Siena. “My job is about always looking forward to find the next big thing, but away from work I prefer to explore the past,” she says. •

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