Where Did The World's Richest Self-Made Female Billionaire Grow Up?
By James Mills, Associate Partner & Mentorship Coach, Lighthouse International
Imagine being born in an impoverished Chinese village, losing your mother at the age of 5, as well as having your father lose his finger and most of his eyesight in an industrial accident. What would be the likelihood of you being able to succeed in life?
It may surprise you that this is a basic description of the impoverished circumstances that the world's richest self-made female billionaire; Zhou Qunfei, grew up in. To help her family she also raised pigs and ducks before leaving school at 16 to go into factory work, with 16-18 hour shifts for $1 per day. According to Forbes, she is now worth $6.5 billion. Without a formal education, family connections and immediate access to business opportunities - you may wonder how this is even possible?
It Started With Gratitude & a Desire To Learn
“I worked from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m., and sometimes until 2 a.m. There were no shifts, just a few dozen people, and we all polished glass. I didn’t enjoy it.” - Zhou Qunfei on her first factory job
Zhou Qunfei left school and her home village in the quest for better work, but quit her job in a lens factory after three months. In her letter of resignation, she stated her reasons for leaving as being the hours and being bored. However, what grabbed the attention of the factory chief was her gratitude for the job, as well as the fact she wanted to learn more. It was this balanced communication that led to her being asked to stay with a promotion. How many of us would rather sell out and continue working in a job we hate, or indeed quit in a rage that blames the employer for not giving us the right opportunities?
She Has The Courage To Face Her Fears & Back Herself
“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.” - Zhou Xinyi (Zhou Qunfei's cousin)
Over the years Zhou Qunfei has made bold decisions; investing $3,000 in savings to start her own lens factory aged 22. Saying yes to an unexpected request from Motorola executives to produce a new type of mobile phone screen, and also using her own apartment as security to guarantee bank loans on more than one occasion. When taking risks, she was more focused on her resourcefulness and ability to make things happen, than on her background and any stories attached to that. Imagine if she said "I can't do that because I'm a poor girl from a Chinese village!"
Quality & Attention To Detail Have Personal Significance
“My father had lost his eyesight, so if we placed something somewhere, it had to be in the right spot, exactly, or something could go wrong. That’s the attention to detail I demand at the workplace.”
- Zhou Qunfei
Zhou Qunfei's business; Lens Technology, started on the basis of offering better quality lenses than its competitors. The experience of helping her dad with his lost eyesight, through the extremely careful placing of household objects, showed her that being sloppy could have dangerous consequences. It is an example of how challenging circumstances actually helped shape an attitude that would have significant future benefits, such as attracting the business of global companies like Apple and Samsung.
Over time she has invested in the latest technology, but it has been her passion and the team she's built around her that has made this possible.
“She’s a passionate entrepreneur, and she’s very hands-on. I’ve watched her company grow, and her develop a strong team. Now there are over 100 competitors in this space, but Lens is a Tier 1 player.”
- James Hollis, Director at Corning
At the end of the day, Zhou Qunfei is a wonderful example of how the circumstances we grow up in are not an indicator as to how successful we will be. Legends face challenging circumstances on the path to success, but they align themselves with the fundamental principles that lead to successful outcomes. She has understood what people value and focused on delivering that.
For more on the background to Zhou Qunfei's success, you should definitely check out this in-depth New York Times article.
For more about myths surrounding billionaires, you may be interested in these articles:
Has anything inspired you about Zhou Qunfei's story? Share in the comments below...