Chu Lam-yiu, the founder and chief of Huabao International Holdings. (Internet photo)
Chu Lam-yiu, a self-made billionaire with wealth of US$2.2 billion from consumer product fragrances and food flavorings, is China's 7th richest woman, according to the Hurun Rich Woman List 2012, yet with the exception of her tremendous business success, her personal story is still largely unknown to the public.
Chu (in Cantonese spelling, Mandarin: Zhu Linyao) is the chairwoman and president of Huabao International Holdings, and was born in 1970 in Sichuan province in China's southwest. The 42-year-old entrepreneur is known for refusing interviews and according to her employees does not even discuss her career with the company and concentrates only business, making her one of the most mysterious billionaires in the country.
Chu started her own fragrances and flavorings company in Beijing in 1990, through which she met her husband, Lam Kwok-man, a 45-year-old man from Guangdong province, and the couple moved to Hong Kong after their marriage. There she founded Huabao International Holdings and successfully took the company public in Hong Kong in 2006. It is one of the largest companies in China focusing on the production and distribution of tobacco flavorings and fragrances and food flavorings.
Tobacco flavorings have been the company's main source of income since it was founded, accounting for nearly 90% of its turnover, a testament to Chu's keen business sense. Chu created a cooperative model with tobacco companies by establishing joint firms and sharing the stake. Huabao co-invested with Hongta Tobacco Group in Yunnan province, setting up the fragrance company Yunnan Tianhong in 2001, in which Huabao owned a 60% stake and Hongta the remainder. Since then, Huabao has been the only flavoring supplier for all Hongta tobacco products via Yunnan Tianhong.
Following the same model, Huabao has built long-term partnership with eight of China's top ten tobacco firms including the Qingdao-based Yizhong Group and China Tobacco Guangdong Company.
The queen of fragnance was not content with her success in tobacco flavorings, however. Considering the tobacco industry has limited prospects for its future growth, she decided to move into food flavorings in 2004. In April of that year, she signed a deal with Shanghai Peacock Flavors and Flagrance Technology, co-founding a joint company. In 2005, she acquired a 20% stake in medicine company Weihai Maifu in Shandong province and renamed it Weihai Huayuan.
Chu's personal wealth exploded after Huabao went public in 2006. She got the company listed via a reverse merger with Lite, a listed computer company in Hong Kong acquired for HK$70 million (US$9 million). The shares went up from HK$2.4 (US$0.31) per share in June 2006 to HK$8.24 (US$1.06) per share in November 2007, pushing Chu into the billionaire club.
After the reverse merger, Chu has cut her original stake in Huabao of 97.57% four times since August 2008. She has let go of a 41.11% stakes in return for HK$4.4 billion (US$567 million).
To date, Huabao has established bases in Shandong, Jiangsu, Yunnan and Hunan provinces in China, as well as Botswana in southern Africa. It has also established production centers in Shanghai, Yunnan, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Fujian and Hong Kong; R&D centers in Shanghai, Yunnan and Guangdong provinces in China as well as overseas centers in Germany, according to Forbes.
According to Forbes' China 400 richest people list in 2012, Chu is the 39th richest person in the country.
Chu Lam Yiu 朱林瑤
Lam Kwok Man 林國文
Huabao International Holdings 華寶國際
Hongta Tobacco Group 紅塔菸草集團
Yunan Tianhong 雲南天宏
Yizhong Group 頤中集團
China Tobacco Guangdong Company 中國菸草總公司廣東省公司
Shanghai Peacock Flavors and Flagrance Technology 上海孔雀香精香料
Weihai Maifu 威海麥福