Photo: Netflix

Cao Dewang's Estimated Net Worth: $2.2 billion

The Obama-produced documentary American Factory, which premieres on Netflix on August 21, takes us inside the Ohio General Motors factory that was bought by Chinese businessman Cao Dewang. The acclaimed documentary that was lauded at Sundance examines the cultural clash between the Chinese and American workers. Fuyao Group Chairman Cao is at the heart of this real-life example of industrialization meets globalization. His massive success as an entrepreneur has earned him an estimated net worth of $2.0 billion in 2019. And we’ve detailed how he manages his massive fortune right here.

Cao Dewang Hails from China’s Fujian Province

Cao Dewang or Cho Tak Wong (family name is Cao/Cho) was born in May 1946 in Shanghai. His family is said to have prominent social standing in China’s Fujian province.

But his family background didn’t guarantee a wealthy lifestyle. Shortly before the Communist takeover of Shanghai, his family returned to Fujian, where Cao spent his formative years struggling to make ends meet after their possessions were stolen.

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According to Cao, ahead of their return home, his father loaded all of their possessions onto a boat, while the rest of the family traveled to Fujian by another boat. Cao and his family arrived in their hometown, but the boat carrying all their money and possessions never made it.

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After losing their wealth, the family farm became their sole means of survival. Cao worked on his family’s farm, and there were many days when he’d go without food.

In order to support his family, he dropped out of school when he was 14 and joined the workforce. Nonetheless, he taught himself over a thousand Chinese characters with the help of a dictionary.

Enterprising as he was, Cao began selling tobacco leaves and fruit to earn a living. He also worked as a cook and repaired bicycles. For over two decades, he worked 16 hours a day to escape poverty.

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Cao Bought out the Glass Factory He Worked For

Cao Dewang was working as a sales manager at a glass factory run by the local government for glass used in water meters. He saved up his earnings until he had enough to buy out the very factory in 1983.

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Japanese car manufacturers were looking to set up production of their vehicles in China in the ‘80s. Cao saw the opportunity and dove into the production of automotive glass, establishing the Yaohua Automotive Glass Co. in 1987. The Chinese Economic Reforms that followed further aided his business.

Now named Fuyao Group, it started as a joint venture company before it was listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in 1993 and on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2015. Headquartered in Fuqing, Fujian, it is currently one of the largest auto glass producers in the world.

It is engaged in the manufacture of float glass, automotive glass, and construction glass. Audi, Fiat, Ford, Honda, and Nissan are among Fuyao’s biggest customers.

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Cao is currently the chairmain of Fuyao, while his eldest son runs the company as the CEO. His daughter is involved in charity project finance, while his younger son runs his own private company.

Cao’s net worth has grown rapidly over the years. As of 2019, he ranks #1057 among the billionaires in the world and #114 on China’s Rich List, according to Forbes.

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The following table illustrates Cao Dewang’s net worth over the years.

In the 2013-14 period, during which he began establishing Fuyao Group’s production line in U.S., Cho’s net worth held steady at $1.2 billion and grew from there.

YearCao Dewang’s Net Worth
2010$1.9 billion
2011$1.8 billion
2012$1.1 billion
2013$1.2 billion
2014$1.2 billion
2015$1.5 billion
2016$1.5 billion
2017$1.8 billion
2018$2.5 billion
2019$2.2 billion

A socially conscious businessman, Cao believes one of the duties of an entrepreneur is to support the economy of the country. He does support the industry as a member of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference from Fujian, the chairman of China Automobile Glass Association, former VP of the China Guangcai Business Promotion Association, and an executive vice president of the China Overseas Investment Enterprise Association.

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Cho’s Fuyao Group Took over a General Motors Plant in Ohio

Since 2013, the Fuyao Group had been looking to establish a factory presence in the U.S. and was looking at possible sites. The glass manufacturing titan picked the site of an abandoned GM assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio in 2014.

With an initial investment valued at about $200.0 million to create an auto glass production facility at the former GM factory, Cao became the biggest Chinese investor in the U.S. that year. As of October 2016, Fuyao has invested $1.0 billion in setting up its U.S. operations.

Documentary filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert first explored the GM employees losing their jobs and the economic after-effects on the town in their 2009 film, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant. They returned to the plant to film the ensuing cultural shift in their latest documentary, American Factory.

With former U.S. President Barack Obama as a producer, this documentary won big at Sundance. Depicting the merger of  Chinese tech workers and the American working class that resulted from the opening of this factory, American Factory is a strong contender for the Oscars.

Cao Dewang Is China’s Most Generous Philanthropist

Not disregarding his contributions to his country’s economy, Cao is hailed as China’s most generous philanthropist. Inspired by American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Cao believes, “The more I donate, the more I realize how little use I have for money.” He further adds that his fortune is better used in the education of children.

He established his charity, Heren Foundation, and donated more than $300.0 million worth of Fuyao’s shares to charity. By his own estimate, Cao has given over $1.3 billion of his wealth to charities.

Some of his donations include $3.3 million to the Sichuan earthquake disaster relief, $50.0 million to the drought in Southwest China and to the victims of the Yushu earthquake, and $3.3 million for the establishment of Heren Charity Academy at Nanjing University.

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