Who’s Hu

Barefoot doctor

Liu Baolin

Barefoot doctor

Born in Yingcheng, Hubei province, Liu Baolin dropped out of school to support his family. At 16 he became a barefoot doctor, working in poor neighbourhoods to deliver basic healthcare. Buoyed by the experience, he decided to change tack. In 1985 he set up a medicine wholesaler in his hometown.

Getting started

Liu was his own leading salesman. He shuttled back and forth between villages, carrying a basket of medicines on his shoulders and knocking at the doors of clinics. The business did well enough for Liu to buy a house locally and take a break from work while he looked for other opportunities. Figuring that logistics for pharmaceutical firms would become a profitable sector he travelled south to Hainan, where market reforms had been accelerated. Then he began planning for a wider distribution network, linking medical wholesalers with local pharma firms.

Big break

Liu’s opening came in 1999, when restrictions on private investment in the pharma industry were further relaxed. The following year, he founded Jointown Pharmaceutical in Wuhan focusing on pharmaceutical distribution, logistics and retail. Jointown made sales of Rmb300 million in its first year, and was hitting Rmb1.2 billion in revenues by its third. In 2007, Liu brought in foreign capital through a new joint venture, and last year the company listed in Shanghai, raising Rmb900 million. “We’ve had good timing: the golden years of China’s pharmaceutical industry,” Liu told China Youth Daily at the time.

In 2010 Jointown Group had sales of Rmb21.2 billion, with profits of Rmb360 million. Operating 14 province-level logistic bases and 25 distribution centres to supply more than 20,000 different medical products, Jointown Group is the leading non-state medicine distributor in China.

Need to know

His many years as a barefoot doctor have given Liu a different perspective to some of his competitors, he says, making Jointown different from the state-owned firms, like Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group and Sinopharm, which focus more on sales to hospitals in the bigger cities.

But Jointown also targets small hospitals and drugstores, as well as rural areas, meaning that it understands how important it is to keep prices down to the minimum, as even a cent less in price can mean a medicine is purchased. Liu claims that this is giving Jointown a commercial edge itself, with a widening distribution but an ability to generate profits on low-priced medicine. Recently, he inked a deal with Pfizer, to sell Pfizer products in rural areas.

And to relax

Think of the company as your home, says Liu. And he seems to mean it literally, by keeping a bedroom next to his office.

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