Alumni Stories
Fu Chengyu

Transforming China’s Oil Industry

Fu Chengyu is China’s oil industry’s most recognized executive, and is famous for modernizing the industry. He is a CKGSB graduate and Professor of Management Practice of Governance and Innovations at Large Corporations. In his extensive career, he was President of China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), and Chairman of China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec).

In this new alumni series, we track down CKGSB’s most influential graduates, many of whom have gone on to lead unicorn companies – privately held companies valued at $1 billion USD or more. According to CB Insights – a global platform which provides authoritative and up-to-date information on the world’s billion-dollar private companies – China has created a total of 217 unicorn companies between 2017 to 2021. Thirty-nine (or 18%) of these companies are run by CKGSB alumni, including 35 companies where CKGSB alumni are founders or co-founders, and 4 companies where they serve as the chairman, CEO or president.

As China’s leading business school, it’s not surprising that CKGSB has been able to produce so many business leaders playing a pivotal role in China’s economic development. More than 18,000 successful entrepreneurs, industry leaders and executives of multinational corporations have chosen to study at CKGSB for the original China insights, world-class faculty and peer-to-peer learning with China’s movers-and-shakers. More than half of CKGSB’s alumni are at the CEO or Chairman level and, collectively, lead one-fifth of China’s most valuable brands. 

Fu Chengyu was born into a poor rural family in 1951 in northeastern China. Despite his background, he graduated from the Northeastern University, China. After graduating in 1975, Fu worked as a sand-carrying worker at oilfields such as Daqing and Liaohe, both in northeastern China.

The China National Offshore Oil Corporation was established in 1982 to explore offshore oil and gas reserves. Fu was hired, and by 1983, he had already chaired joint ventures with the world’s largest oil companies: Chevron, Amoco, Texaco, Phillips and Shell.

Subsequently, Fu was chosen by the China Petroleum Ministry to study a master’s in petroleum engineering at the University of Southern California. Fu returned to CNOOC in 1986, making his way up the company to become Chairman of CNOOC Limited (a subsidiary of CNOOC) and eventually President of CNOOC.

CNOOC was mainly focused on the upstream sector in offshore oil exploration. Fu has discussed the difficulties of making profits in the company’s first 14 years, such as competing with state-backed oil companies who received interest-free loans. Before he led the company in 2001, CNOOC was valued at USD $6 billion. After a decade as president of the CNOOC, Fu increased its market capitalization to USD $100 billion.

He was instrumental in transactions such as the acquisition of five oil blocks in Indonesia in 2002 from the Spanish oil company Repsol, and a 50% stake in March 2010 of Argentina’s Bridas for USD $3.1 billion.

In May 2011, Fu left CNOOC to join Sinopec as Chairman. Sinopec is a much larger traditional state-owned enterprise, dedicated to both upstream oil exploration as well as downstream refining and distribution. Compared to the 80,000 employees at CNOOC, Fu presided over one million employees at Sinopec. In his four years as Chairman, he led the company to prominence on the global stage, increasing its market capitalization by USD $30 billion and increasing its position on the Fortune 500 to third place.

Fu has been recognized globally for his leadership skills in the oil industry. The Harvard Business Review listed Fu as the “Best performing CEO in the world” in 2009. As noted by Ivan Sandrea, President of Energy Intelligence, “he has been a catalyst in the globalization of his country’s petroleum business.” Lin Boqiang, Director at the Energy Economics Research Center at Xiamen University, highlighted, “Fu’s career mirror that of China’s opening and emergence in the past three decades.”

He was included in Time magazine’s most influential people in 2005, and listed by Fortune in 2008 as the most influential business leader in China.

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