Former duck farmer from China revealed as buyer of US$40 million Vancouver mansion




Who is Chen Mailin? He’s gone from being a duck farmer, to a hotelier, to the head of a skyscraper-building conglomerate and a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

The 45-year-old Jiangsu-province businessman is now also the owner of one of Vancouver’s grandest homes, a 17,000 sq ft Italianate mansion on 1.1ha in Point Grey, sales documents revealed last week. The C$51.8 million (HK$315 million, US$40 million) price makes it one of the city’s most expensive homes; it also may represent the single biggest residential transaction ever conducted in Canada, although the nature of private sales make this difficult to prove.

The home at 4787 Drummond Drive was built on what was once three separate lots  by the computer games mogul Don Mattrick - formerly of Entertainment Arts (EA) and Microsoft, and now CEO of Zynga – and his wife, telecoms heiress Nanon de Gaspe Beaubien-Mattrick.

An aerial view of Chen Mailin's Vancouver estate at 4787 Drummond Drive. Photo: SCMP Picture

The library of 4787 Drummond Drive. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Mattrick is a known quantity – a born-and-bred Vancouverite who reputedly lives “like a Saudi prince” and counts Steven Spielberg and Wayne Gretzky among his friends. He found fame and fortune at EA, a major Vancouver employer.

Chen is an altogether different matter. He’s a rather low-key figure among the flashy ranks of Chinese tycoons.

He was born into a poor family in 1969 in Nanjing city’s Pukou district, according to a profile by the Nanjing Daily. Chen started out as a labourer and factory worker before making his first foray into business in 1992. With savings of 18,000 yuan, he started a duck farm. The investment apparently flopped.

Chen Mailin (centre) discusses a project with his executives in 2013. Photo: SCMP Picture

It was in 1996 that Chen borrowed money and started a successful hotel. He was on his way. In 2000, he got into construction, then it was a short hop to the booming world of Chinese real estate development.

In November 2001, his company website says, Chen founded Jiangpu Dingye Real Estate Development, and the overarching Nanjing Dingye Investment Group, of which he is chairman. Among its projects was the 180 million yuan Dingye International Building, a 26-storey tower in Nanjing boasting a five-star hotel. Nanjing Dingye’s four business arms are devoted to property development, pharmaceuticals, hotel management and garment manufacturing.

The Dingye International Building in Nanjing. Photo: SCMP Picture

“In leading the company, Chen has insisted on pursuing the goal of achieving economic, social and environmental efficiency and giving back to communities,” says the Nanjing Dingye site. With his “high sense of social responsibilities”, Chen has received a slew of municipal awards:  “Advanced Individual in Contributing to the Construction of Pukou”, “Outstanding Private Entrepreneur of Nanjing”, “Star of a Honoured Enterprise,” and “Model Worker of Nanjing City”.

Chen has also found time to take part in Chinese policy-making as a CPPCC member representing Nanjing city (the CPPCC is a huge body, with more than 2,000 delegates. Its role is advisory, not legislative). He participated as recently as August 22, 2014, when he was listed as attending a Nanjing meeting of delegates. But his actual contributions are unclear; the only reference to be found was a proposal he lodged in 2010, suggesting a “policy to introduce high-end talent” to a couple of Nanjing municipal bodies.

Chen Mailin (right) gives representative of Beijing's People's Armed Police a tour of one of his clothing factories in 2013. Photo: SCMP Picture

Chen Mailin (right) shows Nanjing municipal officials around one of his pharmaceutical labs. Photo: SCMP Picture

Despite maintaining strong mainland ties, he has also forged links to Vancouver, although these mostly appear related to residential real estate. His local company, Chunghwa Investments (Canada) Co Ltd, is based downtown, but also has a listed phone number that apparently directs to another mansion at 6080 Steveston Highway in Richmond. Chen also owned a home in posh Shaughnessy, at 1559 Laurier Avenue, which he offloaded last year for C$10.5million according to the Vancouver Sun’s Joanne Lee-Young, who first reported the Drummond Drive sale.

The Point Grey estate was not listed through the public Multiple Listing Service (MLS), and instead was being offered last year by Malcolm Hasman, the city’s top-selling luxury realtor.

Realtor Malcolm Hasman. Photo: Supplied


I spoke to Hasman last May about the home. He said he had received three written offers over C$40 million, all from mainland Chinese buyers. They included an offer of C$52 million in the first month (apparently not from Chen), which was rejected, because “it came too soon, and they [the would-be buyer] wanted everything with it”, meaning the antiques, art and furniture that decorated the Mattricks’ home. At the time, Hasman would not identify the sellers or any potential buyers.

When I spoke to the ebullient Hasman again on Monday, he refused to offer many details about the transaction, but did confirm involvement in the sale. Despite the eye-watering price, Hasman contended the home represented “tremendous value”. “It may seem like a lot of money,” he said. “But I think it’s one of the best-value deals I’ve done in years because it is so far below the replacement cost.”

Hasman said the home itself – featuring an indoor pool, two-level library and a 10-car garage - represented C$25million to C$30million in improvement value, and the lot alone was worth more than C$40 million. “The dirt value alone, I’d put at C$42 million, C$43 million,” he said, adding that putting together an equivalent parcel of three lots in an equivalent location would be near impossible.

A voicemail left at Chunghwa’s downtown office was not returned; calls to the Drummond Drive and Steveston Highway homes went unanswered.

The courtyard of 4787 Drummond Drive. Photo: SCMP Picture

The kitchen at 4787 Drummond Drive. Photo SCMP Picture

A sitting room in 4787 Drummond Drive. Photo SCMP Picture

Chen Mailin's new home comes complete with its own cinema. Photo: SCMP Picture

The heated indoor pool at 4787 Drummond Drive. Photo SCMP Picture

A living room at 4787 Drummond Drive, richly decorated by former owner Don Mattrick. Photo SCMP Picture

A small formal dining room at 4787 Drummond Drive. Photo SCMP Picture

The estate sits on what was once three separate lots, covering 1.1ha. Photo: SCMP Pictures


The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email or on Twitter,@ianjamesyoung70.

Buyer of $51.8-million Vancouver home was once a duck farmer in China (with video)


Chinese language media highlight Chen Mailin’s rags-to-riches story


Chinese business man Mailin Chen of Chunghwa Investment (Canada) Co. Ltd buys 25,000 share-feet mansion in Point Grey for $51.8 million. The mansion was previously owned by Don Mattrick the founder of Electronic Arts and his wife. The sale, which was not listed and not conducted by agents, is one of the biggest ever to hit the B.C. residential market.

VANCOUVER -- The Chinese-language Internet is lit up with details that the buyer of a $51.8-million Vancouver mansion was once a duck farmer who became a hotel developer, and is now head of a China-based conglomerate and a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a high-profile advisory body in China.

The Vancouver Sun reported last week that businessman Chen Mailin and his Vancouver-based company Chunghwa Investment (Canada) Co. bought the 25,000-square-foot home on three lots in Point Grey.

The deal, which closed December 2014, is thought to be one of the biggest residential sales in B.C.

The sellers were former Vancouver tech entrepreneur Don Mattrick, who is now CEO of San Francisco-based social media gamemaker Zynga, and his wife, Nanon de Gaspe Beaubien-Mattrick, a tech investor and heiress to a Quebec telecom fortune.

Company filings show that in 2014, Mattrick’s pay package at Zynga topped $57.8 million, making him the second highest-paid executive in the Bay Area, after Oracle’s Larry Ellison, according to CNBC.

News of the sale set off interest by Chinese language media outlets based in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, highlighting Chen’s rags-to-riches story, which starts in the Pukou district of Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province, near Shanghai.

According to media reports, Chen was born in 1969 and came from a poor family and didn’t finish high school before becoming a labourer and then a factory worker. In 1992, he poured his savings into a duck farm. When that failed, he borrowed money to start a hotel, leading him into the construction business and the realm of real estate development in China.

Today, the website of Nanjing Dingye Investment Group, which builds skyscrapers and has business divisions in property development, pharmaceuticals, hotel management and textiles, lists Chen as its chairman.

The South China Morning Post was the first to report details of Chen's involvement as the representative for Nanjing city at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which has thousands of delegates.

In Canada, Chen has bought and sold other properties in Metro Vancouver, including the most recent sale of a $10.5-million Shaughnessy home at 1550 Laurier Ave in December.

According to agents, the high end of the city’s luxury market is drawing interest from buyers with cash from mainland China, including Canadian citizens, residents and visitors.


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