Leadership

This former factory worker is now the world's richest self-made woman

Zhou Qunfei, Lens Technology
AFP | Getty Images

Meet Zhou Qunfei: former factory worker, high school dropout and now with a net worth of over $8 billion.

That makes her the richest self-made woman on the planet, as recently reported by Money using data from the Bloomberg Billionaires Index and previously reported by Forbes.

In March, Zhou topped Forbes' list of the richest self-made women, which featured a "record 56 self-made female billionaires" from around the world.

She leads Lens Technology, which manufactures the glass covers used for Apple and Samsung phones.

Zhou, 47, is the youngest self-made female billionaire on Forbes' list and her humble beginnings make her trajectory that much more impressive, according to Money. She grew up in a small village in central China. Her mother died when she was five and her father became partially blinded and lost a finger in an industrial accident, according to The New York Times. As a child, she began raising pigs and ducks to bring in additional food and money for the family.

At age 16, the future entrepreneur was forced to leave high school to provide for her family. She soon scored a job at a factory making watch lenses for about $1 a day.

Zhou tells the newspaper that factory conditions were harsh. "I worked from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m., and sometimes until 2 a.m," she says.

At age 22, she struck out on her own. With only $3,000 in her pocket, Zhou and a few relatives started a workshop, making watch lenses for customers.

She lived and worked in a small apartment with her siblings, their partners and two cousins, according to AFR.

Though the company was steadily growing, it wasn't until she made the career-changing decision to begin making glass screens for mobile phones that her business took off.

Motorola was the first to reach out in 2003, followed by other mobile-phone companies. HTC, Nokia, Samsung and finally Apple in 2007 were all requesting touch screens, culminating in her current billion-dollar empire.

The self-proclaimed perfectionist admits that overseeing the business hasn't been easy. In fact, she tells AFR that she works 18 hours some days and keeps living quarters in her office.

Her hard work has clearly paid off: Lens Technology has grown tremendously and now employs over 74,000 people across 32 factories in seven different locations.

In her interview with the Times, Zhou reflects on how far she's come. In the area she grew up in, girls like her didn't have the luxury of going to middle school, she says. Their only option was to get engaged or married and spend their whole life in the village. Zhou refused to take that route.

"I chose to be in business," she says, "and I don't regret it."

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