Zhou Qunfei is ‘ba de man’ which in Hunan (Chinese) language is a person who dares to do what others are afraid to do, said Zhou Xinyi, Zhou Qunfei’s cousin.
Even with the recent disastrous stock crash in China in which her company lost $4.8 billion, Ms Zhou Qunfei, aged 45, is still the only ‘self-made’ richest woman on the Forbes 2015 list, with a net worth of $ 6.7 billion as of October 18, 2015 ($10 billion in April 2015). She is #30 on Richest in Tech (“100 Richest Tech Billionaires From Around the Globe 2015), #91 Richest on China’s Richest list (2014) and #17 on the Hurun Rich List of China’s richest.
And what made Zhou The Queen of Watch Glass?
The immediate answer that comes to mind is the ‘mobile phone’, but it is more than just the mobile phone; it is her determination, focus, relentless persuasion, marketing strategy and, of course, a generous dose of luck.
Zhou is another classic example of ‘rags to rich’ story: starting her career as a factory worker polishing glass for watch covers to become the richest female tech making ‘touchscreen’ glass screens for mobile phones and other devices. It is because of the likes of Zhou Qunfei that China has surpassed the USA in the number of billionaires and has more self-made female billionaires than any other country.
As a typical Chinese low-middle class girl, she worked on their small family farm tending pigs and poultry. Though she was very good at studies, she dropped out of school at the age of 15 to find work to support her family after her father had lost his eyesight and a finger in an accident. However, like millions of other Chinese migrant workers, she had to leave home to earn more money. Even while in search of work, she looked for workplaces that were nearby educational institutions so that she could do some part-time courses after work. She learned accounting, computer operations, customs processing, and even earned a license to drive commercial vehicles, which no other girl ever dreamed of doing — the ‘ba de man’.
The owner of the factory she worked at was so impressed by her frankness that he rejected her resignation request and gave her more responsible jobs of supervising the process of grinding glass, which gave her the opportunity to learn the business of glass cover making.
Ms Zhou Qunfei later worked for a factory that made watch parts, and when that factory had to be closed, she founded her own company, Lens Technology, in 1993, with her savings amounting to HK$ 20,000, combined with encouragement and cooperation from her cousin and help from her brother, sister and another cousin.
The Big Break:
Opportunity knocks on anyone’s door only once, and that ‘once’ was more than enough for a woman like Zhou. According to South China Morning Post (SCMP), she got a call from TCL Corporation, a Chinese electronics company known for its TVs, in 2001, offering her a contract to make screens for their mobile phones. Some news media, such as the Times, says it was the Motorola company that first contacted her in 2003. Whichever be the first, Zhou made the best choice of accepting it. (SOURCE)
Over the years, she founded several businesses but had to shut most of them.
In an interview with Gansu Television, she said the secret of her success was the desire to learn. (SOURCE) In their “Zhou Qunfei: Breaking Glass By Making Glass”, posted by The Healthy Leader on Healthy Companies blog, Aug 7, 2015, they said the key lesson in Zhou’s case is ‘Personal mastery and a desire to learn can take you far.’
The Lady with Burning Desire & Boundless Energy:
‘Leaning Towards Obsession’ is how the New York Times & Economics Times described her in one of their articles.(“How a Chinese Billionaire, Zhou Qunfei, built her fortune”; August 2015 — & “How a Chinese Billionaire Built Her Fortune”; David Barbozza; July 30, 2015; The New By DAVID BARBOZA:JULY 30, 2015, The New York Times — SOURCE)
Running a tech business, software or hardware, is not a walk in the park, especially for a Chinese female, but Ms Zhou Qunfei braved the waves and reached the far off shores. She had had troubled times not once but several times. She had to sell her apartment twice to pay employees’ salaries.
As Ms Zhou Qunfei is a ‘hands-on’ person, she keeps all the tabs of running the business under her own thumbs — she is even known to “patrol” her three factory sites with about 75,000 employees quite often, and, every now and then, operates the processing machines herself to check whether they are running as she wants them to run, to the embarrassment of the employee in charge of the process when she finds out anything amiss. She is known to ‘chide’ her managers to sit up straight when she finds them slouching during a meeting, and they do immediately set themselves straight.
Zhou is so obsessed with her work that she has a back door to her office through which she can go out unnoticed and keep an eye on the actual goings on on the factory floor.
Though she is the ONLY self-made richest woman in China, controls a multibillion dollar company, owns and manages real estate worth millions, received and impressed President Xi Jinping when he visited her company (November, 2013) and flies off to other countries to discuss business on weekly basis, Ms. Zhou Qunfei is so down-to-earth type that very little is known to the business world about her. (That is one of the reasons why I have chosen to write about her in this Founder Series.)
Ms Zhou Qunfei came into prominence when her Lens Technology Company debuted on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange on March 18, 2015, and the shares shot up 45 times value, making the Lens and Zhou, who, with her husband, owns about 90% shares, the richest.
She is heard saying that the more we become wealthy or popular, the more level-minded we must be as success and failure in business are like the two sides of a coin, meaning that you never know which side flips in your favor and which side doesn’t.
Along the way, Zhou Qunfei married her former factory boss, but they divorced after they had a child, and later, Zohu married Zheng Junlong with whom she has a daughter.
In the comment section in response to Kate Pickles article, “From shop floor to richer than Branson: How a former factory girl…” for MailOnline, March 10, 2015, Guy, San Francisco, USA, said that: “… she seduced a previous boss to leave his wife and marry her, and afterward, she divorced him and got millions in alimony. Then with the money and skills she acquired from her ex-husband’s factory, she set out on her own.” I tried to get some confirmation on this point but to no avail. (SOURCE)
The Lens Technology:
Among more than 100 competitors in the narrow space of glass cover making for mobile phones and other gadgets, Lens Technology stands as class one company.
Lens Technology has grown from a watch glass cover maker to the manufacturer and supplier of touchscreen and glass screen covers for mobile phones, tablets, notebook computers, player, GPS navigator, automobile instruments, digital cameras, and other consumer electronic products, such as protective glass panels and touch modules.
Besides manufacturing and sales of glass covers, Lens is also engaged in research and development of more sophisticated viewpoint touch protective glass materials.
In 2014, the company made about $2.4 billion, and though it made a 45% loss in the recent market crash, it is still worth $ 7.5 billion.
Lens has been supplying screen covers and touchscreens to mega companies such as Windows, (former mega company Nokia), Apple and Samsung.
It is estimated that Lens sold about 480 billion glass covers, 451 million for mobile phones and 25.5 million for tablets, back in 2013 and that currently 21% of the smartphones world over are using glass covers from Zhou’s Lens, and with the Apple Inc. producing 4.2 million Apple Watches (smartwatches) in 2015, Lens Technology is going to be busier than before.
Apple and Samsung are the two topmost clients of Lens Tech., doing about 70% of Lens business. Though it sounds great news for us, the board of directors and shareholders of Lens are worried about the monopoly of those two companies. And their fears are justified because in 2014, GT Advanced Technologies Inc., (former) leading sapphire mobile phone screen maker, had to file for bankruptcy when Apple Inc. stopped using sapphire glass screens because 80% of GT’s revenue was from Apple.