AdSense

Search This Blog

Labels

Thursday, August 13, 2015

the rise and rise Zhou Qunfei - breaking glass ceiling

Life in Corporate World can change too suddenly – often there are people rising to higher echelons while many remain low … a ‘glass ceiling’ is a metaphor – of the unseen, yet unbreakable barrier that stops people from rising to upper rungs, despite possessing qualification and capability. 

A different glass - Lens Technology is a $7.2B worth glass screen business in China. The company provides glass screens to top labels like Samsung, Windows and Apple and had made a public offer in March……and this is the story of a successful self-made female billionaire in the world, comparatively few people have ever heard of her.  She is a school dropout (by economic necessity), former factory worker — and founder and CEO of Lens Technologies, the woman 45, grew up in a tiny village in China, lost her mother at age 5; her  father was nearly blind after an industrial accident.

She is - Zhou Qunfei  whose  Lens Technology, made a public listing on the Shenzhen ChiNext market in March 2015, raised her net worth to  US$10 billion, making her the richest woman in China.  In her younger days, Zhou pitched in to help raise and sell her family’s pigs and ducks. After years of intense and often dull work, Zhou wisely leveraged her experiences working with glass into her own company. “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,” her cousin Zhou Xinyi told the New York Times. When Zhou’s fastidiousness, intelligence, and diligence met the mobile phone boom, her company rocketed her to tremendous success. She became a top glass supplier for Apple and Samsung. Zhou’s stake in Lens Technology is worth $7.2 billion, but she remains humble and diligent, remembering her path from farmer to factory-owner.

Zhou Qunfei  jets off to Silicon Valley and Seoul, South Korea, to court executives at Apple and Samsung, her two biggest customers. She has played host to President Xi Jinping of China, when he visited her company’s headquarters.  NY Times in an interesting article writes that she  seems most at home pacing the floor of her state-of-the-art factory, tinkering. She’ll dip her hands into a tray of water, to determine whether the temperature is just right. She can explain the intricacies of heating glass in a potassium ion bath. When she passes a grinding machine, she is apt to ask technicians to step aside so she can take their place for a while. Ms. Zhou knows the drill. For years, she labored in a factory, the best job she could get having grown up in an impoverished village in central China.

“She’ll sometimes sit down and work as an operator to see if there’s anything wrong with the process,” said James Zhao, a general manager at Lens Technology. “That will put me in a very awkward position. If there’s a problem, she’d say, ‘Why didn’t you see that?’ ”

It is a fairytale reading about her meteoric rise from disturbed childhood when she had to help her family raise pigs and ducks for food and additional money.  Ms. Zhou has honed her hands-on knowledge into a world-class, multibillion-dollar operation, one at the vanguard of China’s push into high-end manufacturing.  The  glass screens, each refined to a fraction of a millimetre, is an industry that requires highly sophisticated technology,” – and the  thin 0.5 millimeters is really a task.

In creating a global supplier, Ms. Zhou, 44, has come to define a new class of female entrepreneurs in China who have built their wealth from nearly nothing — a rarity in the world of business. In Japan, there is not a single self-made female billionaire, according to Forbes. In the United States and Europe, most women who are billionaires secured their wealth through inheritance. No country has more self-made female billionaires than China.

Ms. Zhou isn’t a celebrity chieftain, like Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba. Few in China had even heard her name before her company’s public offering this year. She rarely grants interviews or makes public appearances.  An elegant woman with a cherubic face, owlish glasses and a preference for Christian Dior suits, Ms. Zhou is fastidious and demanding — “Sit up straight!” she commands of a general manager during a meeting. Yet she exudes charm and humility, a quiet recognition that things could have easily turned out differently.

“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 at her office “I chose to be in business, and I don’t regret it.”    She dreamt  of becoming a fashion designer,  landed a job on a factory floor in the city of Shenzhen, making watch lenses for about $1 a day. The conditions were harsh and extended hours of work were not enjoyable.  After few months, she chose to quit and wrote to her boss complaining of the hours of work and boredom. Even so, she expressed her gratitude for the job, saying she wanted to learn more. The letter impressed the factory chief, who told her the plant was about to adopt new processes. He asked her to stay, offering her a promotion. It was the first of several over the next three years.  In 1993, Ms. Zhou, then 22, decided to set out on her own. With $3,000 in savings, she and several relatives started their own workshop next door. They lured customers with the promise of even higher-quality watch lenses. At the new company, Ms. Zhou did it all. She repaired and designed factory machinery. She taught herself complex screen-printing processes and difficult techniques that allowed her to improve prints for curved glass. Along the way, Zhou Qunfei married her former factory boss, had a child and divorced. She later married a longtime factory colleague, who serves on the Lens board, and had a second child.

Her work habits lean toward the obsessive. Her company’s headquarters is at one of her manufacturing plants in Changsha. In her spacious office, a door behind her desk opens into a small apartment, ensuring she can roam the factory floor day or night.  In 2003, she was still making glass for watches when she received an unexpected phone call from executives at Motorola. They asked if she was willing to help them develop a glass screen for their new device, the Razr V3. At the time, the display screens on most mobile phones were made of plastic. Motorola wanted a glass display that would be more resistant to scratches and provide sharper images for text messages, photos and multimedia.  Zhou responded positively and soon orders started rolling in from other mobile-phone makers like HTC, Nokia and Samsung. Then, in 2007, Apple entered the market with the iPhone, which had a keyboard-enabled glass touch screen that rewrote the rules of the game for mobile devices. Apple picked Lens as its supplier, propelling Ms. Zhou’s company into a dominant position in China. After that, Ms. Zhou invested heavily in new facilities and hired skilled technicians. More than once, colleagues say, she put up her apartment as a guarantee for a new bank loan. Within five years, she had manufacturing plants under construction in three cities.

Lens operates round the clock, with 75,000 workers spread across three main manufacturing facilities that occupy about 800 acres in the Changsha region. Each day, the company receives bulk shipments of glass from global manufacturers like Corning in the United States and Asahi Glass in Japan. The glass is cut, ground down to size, bored and polished to give each plate a transparent finish. Then the plates are strengthened in a potassium ion bath, painted and cured. Finally, they are cleaned and coated with anti-smudge and anti-reflection films. Ms. Zhou designs and choreographs nearly every step of the process, a detailed-oriented approach she traces to her childhood. “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,” she said. “That’s the attention to detail I demand at the workplace.”

Lens has not experienced the kinds of labour troubles that have clouded other contract manufacturers like Foxconn. But current and former workers say the job is challenging. Much of the work is done by young women who inspect glass at different angles, trying to detect flaws.

NY Times reports that  at the first shareholders’ meeting since the company went public, an investor pressed Lens about how it planned to maintain an edge in a hypercompetitive market that thrives on innovation. Several executives tried to answer the question. Then Ms. Zhou spoke up, saying she was prepared to diversify the company’s business with production facilities geared toward higher-end glass, as well as sapphire and ceramic. After the meeting adjourned, investors piled into a bus and rode with Ms. Zhou to the Lens campus, less than a mile away. Ms. Zhou had sat quietly through much of the shareholders’ meeting, but on the tour of the factory, she came alive. The shareholders hung on every word.

Remarkable story that could motivate people.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
12th Aug 2015.


No comments:

Post a Comment