Born in 1967 to a poor farming family, Zhu Yicai grew up in Tongcheng in Anhui province. Two of his siblings starved to death during the famine induced by Mao’s Great Leap Forward, and according to Money Week, his impoverished background is an important explanation of his “hard working and indomitable spirit”. After graduating from Hefei University of Technology he worked for a state-owned firm. Unsatisfied he quit and set up his own business in the dried seafood trade.
In 1991 he decided to switch to the meat business. He first set up a meat processing factory in his native Hefei before switching to Nanjing, where he created Yurun. His sausage business was quickly profitable and his biggest problem was finding land to expand. In 1996 he had the idea of taking over the Nanjing Cannery, a state firm. At first this was thought inconceivable but he succeeded, with observers saying it was like a ‘snake swallowing an elephant’. A further 30 similar transactions followed. After gaining strategic investors such as Singapore’s Government Investment Corp, Yurun listed in Hong Kong in 2005 – with the retail portion 156 times oversubscribed.
Need to know
Yurun is the largest frozen meat supplier in China and now employs 50,000. It plans to raise its annual slaughtering capacity to 25 million heads this year, from 18 million last year. Data for 2009 is not yet out, but sales in 2008 amounted to Rmb37 billion.
On food safety
Readers of WiC will be all too aware of China’s chronic problems with food safety (see issue 6, for example). Zhu believes the food industry is a “moral industry” and that food safety should be the priority. He says conscience must come before profits; food is not an “ordinary commodity”. (Yurun has not been involved in any of China’s many food scandals.)
In his own words
“I eat my own products. The entrepreneur engaged in the food industry must consume their own products.”
Reckoned to be Jiangsu province’s richest man, Zhu ranks 26 in the Hurun Rich List with wealth of Rmb20 billion.
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