Another of China’s current business tycoons born into an impoverished background – this time in Shanxi province in 1952 – Yao Junliang worked as a young man as one of Mao’s “barefoot doctors”. He spent 13 years providing basic medical care at rural health clinics, and advising on hygiene and family planning in the countryside.
Then a new career
Shortly before he turned 30 Yao changed tack, borrowing money to purchase two second-hand trucks. His plan was to offer the only motor transport for hire in his rural neighbourhood. For the first year, Yao and his two brothers drove day and night, transporting coking coal (which is used as a fuel in smelting iron ore in blast furnaces).
The train takes the strain
The Yao brothers became better known, and in 1983 they were offered a transport contract by a local coking plant. Yao used the deal to expand, clubbing together with other villagers to buy more trucks. With a fleet of twenty or so vehicles at his disposal, he then heard that state-owned smelters in southern China were running short of coking coal. But transport costs by road from Shanxi did not allow the business to turn out profitable. So he leased railway wagons to deliver the coal instead. The venture was a success. Yao signed more supply contracts with steel mills and chemical plants. By 1988 he was transporting coking coal by train and truck to a series of clients from his operational base in Taiyuan.
And then into gas
In 1993, Yao diversified again, investing in a coal gasification project with the local government to provide gas to the citizens of Taiyuan.
Meijin Group today is a diversified enterprise with a presence at various points on the coal supply chain. It continues to specialise in the production and distribution of coke and is the biggest commercial coke manufacturer in China, with reported resources of over 2 billion tonnes. It also owns three mines in Shanxi itself, with its coal production anticipated to reach up to 20 million tonnes annually over the next five years. Meijin also produces coal tar, benzene, metallurgical coke and asphalt products, as well as coal gas for the city of Taiyuan.
Yao was 112th in the 2009 Hurun Rich List, with a fortune estimated at Rmb7 billion.
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