The Only Thing That Limits Us is Ourselves: Zhang Xin’s Story

Zhang Xin’s incredible story is living proof that truly, nothing is impossible: the only thing that limits us is ourselves.

Named by Forbes as not just one of China’s, but one of the world’s Top 10 self-made women, her childhood was at the complete other end of this spectrum.

Born in Beijing in 1965, Zhang grew up in factory housing where her parents worked. Before long, she found herself doing the same. Starting at age 14, she worked 12-hour shifts in a Hong Kong sweat shop and then went to school at night. Saving all she could, she bought a plane ticket to England five years later.

Once there, she attended University of Sussex, and then onto Cambridge for a Master’s in Development Economics with the help of grants and scholarships.

After university, Zhang worked on Wall Street with Goldman-Sachs. After a few years she went back to China and stepped into real estate because of a friend’s suggestion, who could not have known the implications this pursuit would have for Zhang’s life and career. She quickly met Pan Shyhi, who also came from an even more poverty-stricken background than hers, and he proposed to her four days later.

Together, they founded SOHO China in 1995, which means Small office, home office. Zhang’s humble beginnings, and Western experience fused with her Eastern roots, influenced her to lead SOHO in innovation and futuristic design. Unlike her rivals who build the typical office, she strives to create unique spaces for entrepreneurs, like her and Pan.

Over the past two decades, she and Pan have transformed their company from an indebted startup into the largest commercial real estate developer in Beijing. As of March, Zhang’s net worth is $2.7 billion, she is among the Top 50 most powerful women in the world, and the 442 richest person alive. Zhang will be the first to say that being the proud mom of two boys comes before all of these things.

Zhang’s entrepreneurial success, celebrity and notable accomplishments have blossomed through steadily living out her values. Because of her hard work, the willingness to pave her own path, take bold risks, and staying true to where she came from, who she is and what she believes, she is able to thrive and make a lasting impact on China and architectural design.

Read more about Zhang:
The worst advice she ever received, how she identifies with Steve Jobs, and why she never flies first class.

Sources: The Telegraph, CNN Money, The Daily Beast

Erin Risner

Director of Community Engagement

Writer. Creative. Brand Strategist. Content Curator. Social Media and Marketing Maven. Passionate about connecting with women around the world and telling their success stories.