Billionaire Hoang Kieu on Forbes Lists
Vietnamese-American Pharma Billionaire Debuts on the Forbes 400
Kieu Hoang was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1975 as the last of the American troops were pulling out of the country; he was 31. He found his way into a job at Abbott Reference Laboratories in California, and became director of the company’s blood plasma testing and manufacturing division. In 1980 he founded a company called Rare Antibody Antigen Supply and began to acquire plasma centers in the U.S. He started to collaborate with the Shanghai Blood Center in China in 1987. That led him to found Shanghai RAAS Blood Products in 1992, which supplies albumin, immunoglobulin and other blood-derived products. It trades on the Shenzhen stock exchange. He is vice chairman of Shanghai RAAS, and owns about 35% of the Shenzhen-listed company. He lives in Westlake Village in southern California. In 2014 he bought a winery and vineyards from the Mondavi Family Estate in Napa Valley, and now operates the Kieu Hoang Winery. Hoang has donated some $1 million for poverty relief in Vietnam.
Ten months after Kieu Hoang Winery held its grand opening in November with Chinese actress Li Bing Bing in attendance, the Napa winery held its first wine-pairing dinner at upscale Vietnamese restaurant Le Colonial in San Francisco. Seventy-one year old Kieu Hoang, the winery’s new billionaire owner, was paper writer absent. His son Tommy Hoang explained to guests that business had called Hoang to Shanghai, conveying his father’s regret at missing the dinner. “He’s out there hustling to make things happen,” the younger Hoang said.
Kieu Hoang has a long history of “hustling.” The dinner–at which well-dressed guests drank wine with Hoang’s face printed on each bottle–was a stark contrast to Hoang’s early years in rural Vietnam, and his first years in the United States after immigrating at the end of the Vietnam War. Now, after founding two successful blood plasma companies, RAAS and Shanghai RAAS, Hoang has earned a spot on The Forbes 400 for the first time. He’s ranked No. 149 with a net worth of $3.8 billion –and he’s the richest newcomer on the list.
The bulk of Hoang’s wealth comes from his stake in publicly-traded Shanghai RAAS, which he founded in 1992, after partnering with the Shanghai Blood Center in 1987. With $214 million in sales and an eye-popping $17.7 billion market capitalization, the company was ranked 20th on Forbes Most Innovative Companies list and appeared on Forbes’ Asia’s 200 Best Under A Billion in 2015. Hoang owns 35% of the Shezhen-listed company, and his wealth has more than tripled in the past year along with the company’s rise in value. The rest of Hoang’s wealth is in Agoura Hills, Calif.-based Rare Antibody Antigen Supply (RAAS), which he founded in 1985, and the winery he purchased and opened last year.
Hoang was born in 1944 in the village of Bich Khe in Quang Tri Province in Vietnam. His early childhood was spent barefoot and shirtless, with a machete in hand to chop down small trees for his mother. “Life was very difficult in those years,” Hoang remembers. It got easier when Hoang moved to Saigon at the age of five to live with his uncle, Hoang Thi, a renowned Vietnamese composer. His uncle helped Hoang through school, and Hoang studied science at a university for one year before the Vietnam War began. Having reached the draft age, Hoang joined the U.S. Special Forces as the “chief combat interpreter.” That experience, Hoang says, gave him the self-reliance that would carry him through many of the other challenges in life—including building a plant for Shanghai RAAS in the early 1990’s with little to no mechanical equipment.
In 1975, as the Vietnam war was about to end, Hoang immigrated to the United States, after helping his family and other Vietnamese refugees escape the country. “I worked with the ministry of the interior to get visas for people to leave the country,” Hoang remembers. He was 32.
Starting over in the United States wasn’t easy for Hoang’s family. Upon arrival, Hoang says the family was sponsored by the Westlake Village Women’s Club and the United Methodist Church of Westlake Village — a town in southern California near Los Angeles. A church member who worked at Abbott Laboratories ABT -2.50% interviewed Hoang for an entry-level job. While he knew he didn’t have the necessary skills, Hoang confidently told his interviewer: “With my intelligence I will be able to learn.” He got the job (which paid $1.25 an hour) on his birthday, and started work two days later. He commuted to work on a donated 50cc motorcycle. “We got through and we got by,” Hoang remembers.
Over the next couple years, Hoang climbed the ranks at Abbott. He was promoted to supervisor after six months, and then manager six months after that. Finally, he reached the top of the company, becoming the director responsible for testing plasma samples. “I’m proud to say I got the first Bureau of Biology [early FDA] license for doing testing on plasma samples for Abbott labs,” Hoang says. With this approval, Hoang began testing for Hepatitis B at Abbott.
By the end of the 1970′s, Hoang began thinking about next steps. The best advice he received from a mentor: “Don’t sell your knowledge cheap.” Armed with his plasma-testing experience, Hoang decided to found his own blood plasma company—Rare Antibody Antigen Supply Inc—and began acquiring blood plasma centers. By 1985, Hoang says he had 11 centers spread across the United States.
In the next couple years, Hoang began expanding globally—and ultimately entered China. At the time, Hoang says few American businesses were focused on entering China. “Who thought of China at that time?” Hoang says. “Only me, only me.”
Hoang’s timing was good. In 1987, there was a Hepatitis A outbreak infected that infected 300,000 people from contaminated clams. “I was able to tell them–this is something I can offer, this is something I can help with,” Hoang says. At the time, no foreign company was allowed to own 50% of a Chinese company, but Hoang partnered with Shanghai Blood Center in 1987. Then, in 1992, Hoang opened Shanghai RAAS, which began selling its own human abumin “AlbuRAAS,” which is a concentrated source of blood plasma, and other medicines derived from plasma. Today, there’s so much demand for his products that Hoang says Shanghai RAAS doesn’t have enough to serve even one full Chinese province.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, Hoang ventured into a new industry in 2014—the winemaking business. He purchased the Michael Mondavi Family winery in June 2014, and held an elaborate grand opening in November 2014. Chinese model La Bing Bing, known as the “Angelina Jolie of China” was in attendance as a spokesperson for the winery.
Hoang sees parallels between the winery and his blood plasma business. Processes like filtering, pH adjustment, and fermentation are similar when treating both blood plasma and wine, and Hoang is fascinated with the health benefits wine can provide. “I’m trying to create what we call a health wine and a regular wine,” Hoang says. “I’m so happy to see that these two industries are related.” The winery caters mostly to China and has had moderate success so far.
Just days after he announced he was buying the winery, Hoang made a stir at Auction Napa Valley on June 7, when he set a new record by donating $1 million to Fund-A-Need. The move was an extension of the charity work he was already doing in Vietnam. “I want to show my gratitude and repay,” he says. Hoang says he’s pledged 20% of his net worth to charity.
Hoang has been making trips back to Vietnam since 2006, partnering with the Red Cross to build 5,000 homes in his birth country. As Hoang gives, his focus is on seeing a direct return for each charitable investment. “When I want to give one dollar to one specific person, the recipient has to receive it,” Hoang says. “I don’t want to give like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. A billion, another billion – what do we have?”
Hoang is reticent to focus on his billionaire status. “Don’t talk about stock. Don’t talk about billions,” he told me. “You can be a billionaire today, and tomorrow you’re not a billionaire,” he said, noting the unpredictability of the stock market.
But that’s not to say that Hoang is modest or eager to stay out of the spotlight—especially with his face printed on every wine bottle his winery sells. Hoang wants to be remembered and hopes people still talk about him and the blood plasma advancements he made in the future. At his winery, a sign reads: “God made water, but people made wine. – Victor Hugo. Kieu Hoang makes both water and wine. – Kieu Hoang”