Born in 1960 in Xiaolan, a small town in Guangdong, He Boquan dropped out of school at the age of 15. After three years working in the fields during the Cultural Revolution, he went on to pick up some pretty varied experience: first as a teacher, then as a shoe salesman, next as secretary to a Youth League in Xiaolan’s government, and finally being promoted to deputy director at a state-owned pharmaceutical plant.
In 1989, He and four partners created Zhongshan Robust Health Products, with Rmb950,000 of capital from the Xiaolan government. The company focused on a ‘yogurt milk’ product, developed by the Zhongshan Medical University. The brand – Robust Yogurt Milk – was launched on National Children’s Day, targeting kids and their parents. The strategy worked. By 1992 sales had reached Rmb80 million, ranking the brand first in the yogurt milk market.
Next He spent Rmb10 million on a “secret recipe” used by a track and field team which had been successful at an international event in Stuttgart.
He renamed it Robust Life Nuclear Energy, getting widespread media attention (Nuclear Energy having a more positive association with health in China than elsewhere in the world, clearly). By 1999 sales had reached Rmb2 billion and He started negotiations with Danone. The next year he sold out to the French food giant for Rmb2.38 billion.
After three years at Harvard University, He returned to China, not sure what to do next. He invested in a snack food company owned by an old colleague, before setting up Today Investment Corporation in Shanghai, identifying himself as an angel investor.
His first project was 9diamond.com, akin to Blue Nile, an online diamond retailer in the US. He advocated the online retailer open showrooms too, allowing Chinese shoppers to check the diamonds’ quality. In 2005, after it received further VC investment, He withdrew and moved to other projects.
Currently, He’s invested in at least 10 promising firms, including hotel chain 7 Days Inn, and third-party money manager, Noah Wealth Management.
Need to know
In an interview with New Fortune in 2008 he said “Don’t think your company is your son and needs you to take care of it all its life. If there is no fun, I let it go.”
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