Born in a village in Hunan province in East China, Zhou didn't have an easy childhood. She lost her mother when she was five and her father went blind and lost a finger in a factory accident. She had to learn how to survive on her own, she tells CNBC Make It via email: "I had to constantly think about where my next meal is and how I am going to get it."
To earn tuition, Zhou dropped out of high school at age 16 and went to South China's Shenzhen city to work at a watch lens factory in 1986. She was later promoted to a managerial role. However, she had bigger dreams.