Li Lixin got his first job after leaving school at 19 as a salesman in a stationery factory. He went on to manage the sales team, and with six years of savings under his belt, he set up his own stationery business. By 1993 it was earning Rmb1 million.
Li then decided to change direction. He set up Lisi Plastic to make household plastic items, opening a workshop in Ningbo. In 1994 he went to the Canton Fair and displayed his wares. Although his English was rudimentary he met an American buyer, who placed a Rmb1.5 million order for six containers worth of plastics goods. Business grew and he was soon working with a network of US agents to sell his products abroad. By 2004 he had created Asia’s largest household plastic factory and sales had reached Rmb1.5 billion. Supplying the likes of Walmart and Carrefour, Li’s household goods were being exported to more than 100 countries.
With 90% of products exported to Europe and America, Lisi was not well placed when the financial crisis struck in 2008. Li responded by investing Rmb120 million in R&D to try to improve product quality. He cooperated with Tsinghua University and saw his product’s average selling price rise.
Even before the crisis struck, Li had foreseen that his business needed to be transformed. In particular, he noted the success of the Waltons of Walmart and IKEA’s Ingvar Kamprad. He decided retailing was the future and in 2006 took full control of Ningbo’s top department store. He then went on an acquisition spree, buying up malls, supermarkets and department stores in third and fourth tier cities. Lisi currently has 10 department stores and 40 supermarkets. Their sales now constitute 60% of group profits.
Need to know
Known as China’s “Plastics King”, Li’s company Lisi had sales of Rmb5.5 billion in 2009. He is worth around Rmb2.8 billion himself and this year he injected part of Lisi’s assets into a listed company called Magician Industries. He will use this as a vehicle for further non-retail industry investments, with his particular interest now focused on financing alternative energy start-ups.
In his own words
“To have a successful business, you must think of the future.”
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