Microsoft went public on NASDAQ in 1986 in a move that helped Bill Gates become the world’s richest man for decades. Liang Yunchao may hope to repeat history. The healthcare tycoon was once the wealthiest man produced by the Growth Enterprise Board (GEM) of Shenzhen – which is China’s answer to NASDAQ.
Born in 1969 in Guangdong, Liang studied business management at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law. Upon graduation in 1991 he was assigned to work at a state company in the province, although he soon quit to join a privately-run healthcare firm called Guangdong Apollo.
In Liang’s own words this kickstarted his career as a “super salesman” of healthcare and pharmaceutical products. He even topped the sales rankings at Apollo while studying for an MBA at the Sun Yat-sen University in Zhongshan. Sensing opportunity, Liang wanted to start his own firm and in 1995 he and four colleagues did just that.
But the startup floundered, as its attempts to distribute healthier alcohol drinks and honey products both failed. When the Asian financial crisis struck in 1998, Liang’s net worth was reduced to “several thousand yuan”.
Chastened, Liang decided to spend more time with his wife, who was studying in the US. While he was there he discovered health supplements. After returning to China in 2002 he founded his own firm – Guangdong By-health – and began selling dietary supplements like protein powder, calcium supplements and vitamins. This time the company was a success, tapping into a growing Chinese demand for products that safeguarded health and drawing on Liang’s skills as a salesman.
By-health went public on the GEM in Shenzhen in 2009 and it has maintained its strong growth rates since its listing. According to Hurun, the wealth index, the net worth of Liang’s family reached Rmb12.5 billion ($2 billion) last year.
His wife’s mother – a substantial shareholder in By-health – has been dubbed “the luckiest mother-in-law of China”.
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Liang told Forbes magazine that he only spends a few days a year at the company’s head offices as he doesn’t want his employees “to feel like they are being watched”.
Instead, his time is spent recruiting and developing the firm’s in-house talent. Every year or so Liang also selects a crop of promising managers and tests their stamina and team spirit at corporate boot camps. His training venues have ranged from the Tengger Desert in Inner Mongolia to Antarctica.
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