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Fosun's Club Med deal, a success over isolation and ignorance

By Andre Loesekrug-Pietri (China Daily) Updated: 2015-02-02 10:53

The landmark Club Med transaction by Fosun International is probably the most famous China-Europe investment thus far in history.

It was originated by A Capital, the private equity fund I founded that invests in European companies to boost their development in Asia. Our fund convinced Fosun to invest with us in the iconic French brand in 2010. At that time, Fosun was already a major Chinese conglomerate but had never invested outside of China. Since then, Club Med has accelerated its development in China and the takeover battle-which lasted 18 months, the longest ever on the Euronext, and involved more than eight offers and counteroffers-demonstrated that it has become again a very attractive group.

And what a great success for Club Med: A few years ago the company was financially fragile; now it will have a strategic long-term shareholder. Some fear that Fosun will change the French DNA of the company, but I am convinced that it is absolutely not true because the "French touch" is precisely what customers from all over the world look for when they come with their family to one of the 70 Club Med resorts.

What have we achieved today? A stronger company thanks to a long-term investor. A controlling shareholder who made public statements on his commitment to growing the company, which should strongly comfort the 15,000 employees of Club Med. Strong interest from investors around the world-Chinese, Italian, Brazilian, American-to invest in the company. And many existing investors-many of whom are French-who have greatly benefited from the surge in the stock price. It's a home run.

The many reactions and number of headlines about the transaction, in France and around the world, demonstrate both that Club Med is a global icon and also that France and Europe are at a crossroads, a crossroads between the 20th and 21st centuries, between conservatives and reformers, between supporters of decline and those that believe in the revival of the "Old Continent" and its contribution to the world. Moreover, this transaction highlighted how those who advocate introversion and a return to national borders are ignorant.

Tourism, even more than any other industry, must welcome globalization and openness. This is also increasingly true in most parts of our economy: food, automotive, energy, services, digital and logistics. According to the World Bank, 90 percent of European growth in 2015 will come from outside of the EU's borders. Exposure to emerging markets is not anymore a nice-to-have, but an essential component of any growth strategy.

In the economic field, China has become the world power, and even more interestingly the largest market in the world. When we talk about growth in Europe or job creation for youth, even if we fight for products to be made in France or made in Europe, we must now imperatively think and win in the Chinese market. The Middle Kingdom today is eight times the French GDP. What's even more impressive is that China's annual growth in value is a whopping 50 times that of French growth.

How can China be an opportunity to the benefit of European companies and countries? We believe it is necessary to find new types of partnerships with this giant country, its large State-owned companies and its new entrepreneurs. We must go beyond naive admiration for the real achievements of this country.

China today faces immense challenges, which are immense opportunities for Europe: environmental and energy challenges, food issues, massive urbanization linked with clogged transportation, ongoing digital revolution. Traditional partnerships such as joint ventures are often unbalanced.

We believe that the increasing willingness of Chinese groups to invest abroad should be used strategically to the benefit of investment projects in Europe-and possibly as a key to access the massive Chinese market. We have to be open but demanding toward Chinese investors when they invest in Europe, and fully align their interests with those of the European companies they have an interest in, of their shareholders, of their employees, and of local communities.

The author is executive chairman of the Paulina Foundation and chairman of A Capital Funds, a Euro-Asia private equity fund. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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