A Chinese billionaire is the richest self-made woman in the world. Here's how she went from making $16 a month in a factory to controlling a $9.4 billion real estate empire

Courtesy Longfor PropertiesWu Yajun, a cofounder of Longfor Properties.
  • Wu Yajun is the world’s richest self-made woman, worth an estimated $US9.4 billion, according to Forbes.
  • The Chinese billionaire started out making $US16 in a factory and made her fortune after founding the real-estate-development company Longfor Properties in the early 1990s with her husband.
  • She stepped down as chair of her company in November and handed her shares to her daughter.

Wu Yajun once worked in a factory for $US16 a month. Now, she’s the world’s richest self-made woman, worth $US9.4 billion, according to Forbes.

The Chinese billionaire spent years working in a factory and as a journalist before founding Longfor Properties, a real-estate development company that brought in $US10.7 billion in revenue in 2017, according to Bloomberg.

Wu stepped down as Longfor’s chair in November and transferred her shares to her daughter, Forbes reported.

Here’s how Wu went from working as a factory technician to amassing an $US9.4 billion real-estate empire.

Wu Yajun is worth $US9.4 billion, making her the world’s richest self-made woman.

May Tse/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Source: Forbes

Wu is the cofounder of Longfor Properties, a property-development company now called Longfor Group Holdings. She was the company’s CEO for six years and was chair of the board from 2007 to 2018.

Sam Tsang/South China Morning Post via Getty ImagesThe Longfor executives Wei Huaning, Wu, Shao Mingxiao, and Zhao Yi.

Source: Bloomberg

Longfor, which is based in Hong Kong but operates in 47 cities, brought in $US10.7 billion in revenue in 2017.

Getty Images

Source: Bloomberg, Longfor

In November, Wu stepped down as chair and passed her 44% stake in the company to her daughter, Cai Xinyi, “for the purpose of family wealth and succession planning,” the company said in a statement. Her daughter is believed to be in her early 20s.

May Tse/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Source: Forbes, Mingtiandi

While Bloomberg still attributes the fortune to Wu and not her daughter “to reflect her status as founder of the business,” Wu’s net worth without her Longfor shares is unknown.

May Tse/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Source: Bloomberg

Wu is more than $US3 billion richer than the richest self-made woman in the US, Diane Hendricks, who’s worth about $US6.3 billion. Hendricks is the chair, sole owner, and cofounder of ABC Supply, the largest wholesale distributor of roofing materials in the US.

Mr. Top 10/YouTube

Source: Bloomberg, Forbes

The richest woman in the world is Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, the L’Oreal heiress, who’s worth about $US49.3 billion.

Source: Business Insider, Forbes

Wu does not come from wealth. She was born in 1964 in Chongqing, China, today a city of about 30 million people.

Getty Images

Source: Bloomberg, World Population Review

She started studying at Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi’an when she was 16 and left with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. After graduation, Wu was assigned to work at a state-owned factory in her hometown and worked there for four years, earning about $US16 a month.

Northwestern Polytechnical University/Facebook

Source: Bloomberg

In 1988, when she was 24, Wu started a five-year stint as a journalist covering real estate at the China Shirong News Agency, during what was a “golden age of profitability” for Chinese newspapers, according to The Economist.

MARTIN CHAN/South China Morning Post via Getty ImagesA Chinese newspaper vendor stall in December 1995.

Source: Forbes, The Economist

In 1993, after experiencing a plethora of problems trying to buy her first apartment, from a lack of natural gas to poor lighting and elevator service, Wu was inspired to start what would later become Longfor Properties with her husband at the time, Cai Kui.

Source: Bloomberg

In 1997, Longfor sold its first residential project in Wu’s home city, Chongqing, for $US157 per square meter, which was more than twice the average Chinese household income at the time.

Getty ImagesConstruction in Chongqing.

Source: Bloomberg

Longfor was one of the earliest shopping-mall developers in China. The company estimated that 300 million people had visited its malls as of 2017.

NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty ImagesA customer shops at a mall in Beijing in January.

Source: Longfor

Wu served as CEO from 2005 to 2011 and then stayed on as chair. In 2012, she was the richest woman in China until her divorce that year. She lost nearly $US3 billion in transferring about 40% of her shares in the company to Cai.

David Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty ImagesWu with the mayor of Chongqing, Wang Hongju, in October 2004.

Source: Bloomberg, New York Times

But Wu’s wealth grew. In 2017, she was seventh on a global list of female self-made billionaires, with a net worth of $US4.6 billion. Today, she outranks them all.

Source: Business Insider, Bloomberg

The billionaire is famously discreet. In 2003, because there was such a lack of public information about Wu, her name was misspelled on a list of China’s wealthiest people, and she was mistaken for a man. When asked why she avoids publicity, Wu said: “Well, I have nothing to talk about. I am just a person focusing on my own business.”

May Tse/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Source: China Daily

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