A passionate environmentalist and businessman, Zhengrong has devoted his business to not just help people conserve energy and save money, but to also preserve the environment by promoting the use of solar power. This has always been the goal of Suntech from the beginning—to encourage people to invest in solar power to further protect and preserve the environment and secure a better future for the next generation.
Zhengrong said in an interview:
“Due to the pressure of fossil fuel shortages and global climate change, more and more attention turns to renewable energy. We are very concerned about global warming issues. We will try our best to expand market penetration of solar energy, to reduce the dependency on fossil fuels that cause carbon dioxide emission. We are interested in all technologies which can help to improve the performance and cost of solar modules so as to enable solar energy to become more affordable for people in the world.”
Amazingly, Zhengrong has indeed managed to get the interest of a lot of businesses worldwide to turn from traditional coal and oil plants to solar power. And along with the growth of the solar energy industry comes intense competition, which may in a way discourage people from utilizing solar power as their means of getting electrical energy. As such, Zhengrong constantly encourages fair and transparent competition among the members of the solar energy industry.
Zhengrong often says:
“Because of the fast growth rate of PV market, many new players are attracted to the PV industry, which may cause a severe price war. There is also a tendency for some state governments to launch more protective measures to protect their own PV industry. That development may not be constructive for the healthy growth of the PV industry. I believe that transparent and fair competition can promote the healthy development of the PV industry that will benefit more people and the world.”
Zhengrong’s story of how he rose from poverty to becoming among the wealthiest people in the world is what truly makes him extraordinary. Throughout his life, Zhengrong went through a lot of tough and difficult situations; and yet, his admirable courage and fortitude enabled him to always stand up in the midst of the circumstance and triumph over it. Zhengrong’s life is an example of outstanding perseverance and hope; his will to go beyond his limits is what makes him a remarkable leader.
Throughout his life, Zhengrong has been a recipient of numerous awards and recognitions such as the Murphy and Spitz Global Award, the Banksia International Award and the Businessman of the Year Award. Zhengrong is also recognized as an environmentalist, and has been included in the Guardian’s list of the 50 people who can save the planet.
Shi Zhengrong was born to a very poor family in the Jiangsu province of China in 1963. Zhengrong’s parents were poor farmers who suffered a lot after the great famine of the previous decade. Prior to Zhengrong being born, his parents already had two children, and the birth of Zhengrong and his twin brother only aggravated the already desperate situation of the family. Because of this, Zhengrong’s real parents gave him up (because Zhengrong was the younger of the twins), leaving the older twin to stay in the family.
But while it might have seemed cruel for Zhengrong to be given away, he was actually fortunate with the family that adopted him. Zhengrong’s adoptive parents were quite wealthy, enabling him to grow up with a good life. Aside from this, Zhengrong’s adoptive parents were also loving and caring, always encouraging him to be the best that he can be in his life. Because of the kind of love that Zhengrong received from his parents, he grew up with the confidence and the security that enabled him to dream of big goals in his life.
Even at a young age, Zhengrong already exhibited traits of a brilliant and intelligent mind. In school, Zhengrong was often praised by his teachers for receiving outstanding marks and performing very well in class. By the time he graduated from high school, Zhengrong was at the top of his class and was among the students that were “highly-prized” by the country for their amazing intellect. Right after finishing high school, Zhengrong’s adoptive parents prepared a banquet for his teachers in honor of their efforts in teaching their son.
For his college education, Zhengrong enrolled at the Changchun University of Science and Technology and earned his bachelor’s degree with high marks. Afterwards, he pursued a master’s degree at the Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics and finished in 1988. In the early eighties, China was opening its doors to the international community; when Zhengrong learned of this, he immediately took advantage of the opportunity. He took a particular interest in going to the United States, which he heard was a place where he could really achieve all his dreams in life. And so, Zhengrong studied all he can about the United States, even passionately learning the American accent the best way he could.
Australia: A Sudden Stroke of Fortune
Things did not go for Zhengrong as expected, and before his graduation in May 1988 his academic advisor told Zhengrong that instead of going to the United States, he would be headed for Australia because the slots for the United States were all filled up. This brought a surprise to the hopeful Zhengrong, who at that time ‘did not even know where Australia was.’ In spite of this initial disappointment, Zhengrong did not become discouraged. He kept being optimistic about the situation, believing that there were still big opportunities ahead of him.
And he was not wrong. Upon arriving in Australia, Zhengrong met Martin Green, a well-known scientist who worked in the field of solar energy. Martin was very impressed with Zhengrong’s work ethic and amazing potential, so he helped Zhengrong by giving him a scholarship at the University of New South Wales. Martin later said of his meeting with Zhengrong:
“Shi knocked on my office door at the University of New South Wales in Sydney seeking full-time work. Instead, I offered him a scholarship to do solar-cell research.”
Zhengrong did not disappoint, and in just two and a half years completed his studies and earned his doctorate degree in photovoltaic and renewable energy engineering. After finally completing his collegiate studies, Zhengrong joined Martin’s venture in the establishment of Pacific Solar, a company that produced high efficient solar cells. Through their partnership, Pacific Solar became a successful company.
Building Suntech, His Own Solar Company
In 2001, Zhengrong returned to China bringing with him all that he had learned from his experiences in working with solar energy. After meeting with a few officials in the city of Wuxi, Zhengrong was inspired to start a solar energy company after the government promised to invest six million dollars in his startup company. Zhengrong later on recalled his meeting with the officials in an interview:
“They said, we need a scientist like you to come and we want sons like you to come back and be bosses here.... I’d never thought of myself as a boss before.”
Back then, the solar power industry was dominated by big shot companies such as BP Solar, Siemens and Sharp—companies which had years and years of reputation and experience. When Zhengrong first laid out his plans for starting a solar power company, he was met by a lot of skepticism. Most often, people he talked to would ask him, “How can you possibly compete with Siemens or BP Solar?” Others tried to discourage him by telling him that he would not succeed because of the already established businesses that were internationally known. In all of these encounters, Zhengrong would not answer anything, but was always thinking to himself: “Why couldn’t I?”
And so, in the midst of an unsure future in the world of business, Zhengrong founded Suntech. Little did Zhengrong know how much of an impact his company would make in the world back then, because not very long after Suntech was established, it immediately began to take the spotlight and built for itself a name among the solar power providers in China. Soon enough, the company went global, and in just a few years already became among the leading companies in the world in the solar power industry.
Benefactor of University of New South Wales’ Renewable Energy Research and Founder of the Shi Zhengrong Foundation
Aside from being a successful businessman, Zhengrong also became a passionate philanthropist. When he started Suntech, he did not just do it out of profit—he was inspired by how harnessing solar energy can be more environment-friendly and more efficient compared to the traditional coal and oil power plants. Among Zhengrong’s most notable philanthropic efforts are his donations to the University of New South Wales’ Renewable Energy Research and the founding of the Shi Zhengrong Foundation.
As with any business, Zhengrong’s company Suntech did face its share of struggles. Along with the success and popularity of utilizing solar power came an oversupply of solar power materials due to the growth of the number of competitors. By the late 2000s, there was an increasing rate of overcapacity that threatened Suntech’s growth in the solar market. In spite of this, Zhengrong remained optimistic in the goals of his company, so much so that between 2009 and 2011, Suntech was part of the top five largest companies in the solar industry.
Very recently, Zhengrong faced a very stormy situation in his life when he was removed from his position as the chairman of the board of Suntech. A month later, Suntech’s earnings went down the drain after over 12 years of enjoying success and prosperity. Amidst all of these seemingly overwhelming trials, Zhengrong remains steadfast and optimistic. Although he admits that he was indeed disappointed with the decision of the board to let him go, he still keeps his hopes up, and looks forward to a brighter tomorrow.
Oftentimes, we think that very few people can rise up from a seemingly impossible situation and overcome because they alone have the skill and the ability to do so. But after looking at the life of Shi Zhengrong, we learn that becoming successful is not because of where we come from or what we currently have… All it takes is a strong determination to succeed no matter what comes our way.
Companies Founded or Worked With
- Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd
- Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International
- Resourcehouse Limited
- Pacific Solar
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Shi Zhengrong Organization
- University of New South Wales’ Renewable Energy Research
Awards and Achievements
- 2005: Won the PV-SEC Prize at the International Photovoltaic Science and Engineering Conference
- 2006: Won the Best Entrepreneur Prize from the Southern California Asian Society
- 2007: Named as a Corporate Citizen of the Year at the China Business Leaders Awards
- 2007: Included in the 50 People Who Can Save the Planet by the Guardian
- 2007: Named as a Hero of the Environment by TIME Magazine
- 2007: Included in China’s Green Persons of the Year
- 2008: Received the Businessman of the Year Award from Fortune Magazine
- 2008: Received the Banksia International Award
- 2009: Included in China’s Most Powerful People by Business Week Magazine
- 2010: Won the Zayed Future Energy Prize
- 2011: Received the Murphy & Spitz Global Leader Award
- 2012: Included in the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies (Suntech)
- 2010: Honorary Doctorate from Swinburne University of Technology