China’s richest woman, Zhang Yin was born in 1957 in Heilongjiang province. The daughter of a lieutenant in the Red Army, she started out in accounts in a state factory. In the early 1980s she moved to a joint venture paper firm in Guangdong.
Next up was Hong Kong. But in 1985, her employer went bust. Zhang seized the moment to start her own paper recycling business, using Rmb30,000 of savings.
Zhang upset rivals by improving the quality of her recycled product. She even got harassing calls from triads. She didn’t flinch but in 1988 decided to relocate her business to China, opening a wholly-owned factory in Dongguan. She also began to build up operations in the US and in 1996 invested $110 million to establish Nine Dragons, a firm that turned waste paper from America into cardboard packaging for China’s burgeoning export industry.
Rich on paper
In 2006 Nine Dragons – by now world’s biggest maker of paper packaging – listed in Hong Kong. Zhang became famous when she was ranked top of the Hurun rich list with a net worth of $3.4 billion. She was also reckoned to be the richest ‘self-made’ woman in the world – beating Oprah Winfrey and JK Rowling.
Need to know
In the wake of the 2008 global economic crisis, Nine Dragons was hit by collapsing Chinese exports. This meant less need for paper packaging and the stock plummeted 90% from its high. However, Zhang appears to have weathered the storm and the stock is up 329% year-to-date. In Hurun’s new ranking – out this week – she was in second place with a net worth of $4.9 billion.
In her own words
Her Taiwan-born husband is the CEO. She says: “The principle of coexistence is to admit one’s mistakes and never take things personally. When I am wrong, he will criticise me seriously.”
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