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Zhou Qunfei, the world's richest self-made woman

posted onJuly 26, 2017

Zhou Qunfei is a Chinese entrepreneur who founded Lens Technology, a company which supplies window glass for electronic devices. Zhou was born in 1970 into a poor family in Xiangxiang, Hunan province, China.

Before she was born her father was blinded in an accident in the 1960s, the Oriental Morning Post reported, and her mother passed away when she was five. She quit school at 16 to provide for her family and moved to work in Shenzhen, the special economic zone in Guangdong province, where she learned how to make glass for watches.

Lens Technology factory
Lens Technology factory

Displeased with the working conditions, three months later, she tendered her resignation, only to be offered a chance to head a newly created department. She later rose through the ranks to become Director of the entire manufacturing operations of the glass processing company.

When the factory folded, she set up her own company in 1993 at age 22 with only $3,000 in her pocket and the help of a few relatives. The company made watch lenses for customers. In 2001 she won a lucrative deal to make glass screens for TCL's mobile phones. In 2003 while still producing glass for watches, Zhou's company received a request from Motorola to develop glass screens for their Razr V3, during a period when the mobile phone industry was transitioning from plastic to glass display screens.

Zhou Qunfei

Following this, she launched Lens Technology, supplying products made by leading electronics giants including Apple, Samsung and Huawei. Lens Technology went public in 2015. During Lens' 2015 IPO offering, Zhou's net worth rose 452%, dethroning Chen Lihua as China's richest woman. Now with a net worth of  $9 billion Zhou is the richest self-made woman on the planet, as recently reported by Money using data from the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Lens now employs over 74,000 people across 32 factories in seven different locations.

"I'm not qualified to be a high-profile person," Hunan Daily quoted her as saying. "I think it's important not to get carried away when you are successful - and not to let yourself feel gloomy when times are bad."

According to in 2013, Zhou donated more than $230,000 to build a sports field at her high school. She had also made donations to improve welfare of her village in Xiangxiang, Hunan, China.

Zhou Quifei

Zhou Qunfei married her former factory boss, had a daughter, and divorced. In 2008 she married a longtime factory colleague who serves on the Lens board. They have a son who lives at their Hong Kong family home.

Zhou Qunfei's story,  building her wealth from nearly nothing, has been hailed as an inspiration to the millions of migrant workers in China.

“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,” she said in an interview with the New York Times .“I chose to be in business, and I don’t regret it."

China is home to more self-made female billionaires than any other nation, according to Shanghai-based Hurun Research Institute. The world has 88 such billionaires - China has 56 of them,  the US has 15 and the UK 8.  Singapore, Spain, Brazil, Nigeria, Italy, India, Germany, Australia and Denmark follow with one billionaire each.