How a Poor Village Girl Became One of the Richest Self-Made Billionaires in China

A Chinese girl who grew up in poverty working in a lens manufacturing factory is now one of the world’s wealthiest self-made women.
Her company, Lens Technology, is a multi-billion-dollar operation that manufactures cover glass for laptops, tablets and cell phones. Zhou Qunfei, who once labored making watch lenses for less than a $1 a day as a young girl, now supplies cover glass for clients including Apple and Samsung and is worth an estimated $6.9 billion, making her the richest self-made woman in China.
Zhou, 45, comes from a country known for producing self-made female billionaires. Under the ruling Communist Party, China’s commitment to gender equality along with capitalism’s influence gave way to a new class of women entrepreneurs.
The company, which went public in March of this year, is valued at $8 billion with the majority stakes being held by Zhou and her husband.
In an interview with the New York Times, she recounted:
“In the village where I grew up, a lot of girls didn’t have a choice of whether to go to middle school. They would get engaged or married and spend their entire life in that village. I chose to be in business, and I don’t regret it.”
Born into a rural village in Hunan Province in central China, Zhou raised ducks and pigs in order to support her family. Her mother passed when Zhou was 5-years-old, and her father lost most of his eyesight during an industrial accident.
She later moved in with her uncle’s family in southern China’s Guangdong province where she found a job in a factory making watch lenses. Restless and bored at her job, Zhou sent in a letter of resignation after three months on the factory floor.
Impressed by her skills, her boss promoted Zhou into a newly created department where she would stay for another three years. At 22, with $3,000 in savings, Zhou opened her own watch lenses shop with a few of her family relatives.
Zhou was a skilled tradeswoman who knew the ins and outs of glass-processing. Her cousin, Zhou Xinyi, who serves on the Lens board, told the Times:
“In the Hunan language, we call women like her ‘ba de man,’ which means a person who dares to do what others are afraid to do.”
In 2003, Zhou’s big break came when Motorola came knocking and asked her to develop a glass screen for their mobile phone, the Razr V3.
Her steady rise to success continued with new clients including HTC, Nokia and Samsung. In 2007, Lens became the supplier for Apple’s glass touch screen iPhone.
Len’s Technology’s patented invention of the scratch-resistant coating on glass for Apple devices was inspired by Zhou’s rural background. As a child, she was in awe of her natural surroundings and how rain droplets fell on lotus leaves without leaving a trace.
Zhou oversees three main manufacturing facilities that employ about 75,000 workers. Lens Technology pulled in an estimated revenue of $2.4 billion last year.
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