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From selling fruit on the streets to owning a glass factory

By Bi Xiaoning (China Daily)


Cao Dewang, born and raised in a poor family in rural China, is a true rags-to-riches story.

Cao started off peddling cut tobacco and selling fruit on the streets in his hometown at the age of 16. He also worked as a farmer and a chef before his luck turned in 1976 when he landed a job at Fuqing Gao Shan Special Glass Factory, where he was later promoted to merchandiser.

The factory soon fell into hard times, and in 1983, he was asked by the local authorities to take over the dying company.

He quickly turned it around and the business, which has since changed its name to Fuyao Glass Industry Group, began to make profits within one year.

His entry into manufacturing glass has not only brought him wealth, but also international fame as the winner of the Ernst & Young world entrepreneur of the year (EOY), 2009 award.

Talking to China Daily after receiving the award, Cao, the current Chairman of Fuyao, said: "To be chosen for this award from among a group of such talented entrepreneurs is a great honor, not just for me, but also for the 10,000 employees of Fuyao."

As Ernst & Young global chairman Jim Turley said, "Throughout his long career, Cao has shown entrepreneurial spirit, vision, leadership, determination and sheer hard work. He is a great example of the new breed of entrepreneurs based in the emerging markets who are bursting onto the global stage."

The EOY awards program was instituted in the United States in 1986 and has now expanded to 50 countries, with awards presented to around 1,000 of the world's most successful and innovative entrepreneurs. This is the first time that a Chinese entrepreneur is receiving this award.

Fuyao Glass Industry Group specializes in the production of automotive safety glass (controlling more than half of the overall domestic market) and glass for industrial use. In 1993, it was the first Chinese company in its sector to be listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

Cao is also a pioneer in corporate governance. Fuyao was one of the first companies in China to have independent directors on its board.

"My next goal is to make the glass more perfect; the aim is to invent the world's first intelligent glass in five years, one that can be more sensitive to sunlight and better protect the driver's eyes," said Cao.

His company is also a windshield provider for world-renowned automakers including Volvo, Audi, GM and Ford. Fuyao is present in many overseas markets, including the US, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Russia and Germany.

Due to the financial crisis, many automakers in the US and Europe have cut down production, but Fuyao saw sales in these two markets surge since the beginning of the year.

"The overseas automakers have shrunk their businesses. They need more batches of glasses in different types, but not the same type of glass in large quantities. However, the glass manufacturers in overseas markets use machines to produce large quantities of the same kind of glass and are not flexible enough to customize their products. So, opportunities have increased for us," said Cao.

"Exports usually account for 40 percent of our total revenue. But the proportion can be improved to half this year," said Cao, who was ranked by Forbes as the 53rd richest man in China in 2008.

In 2008, Fuyao Group's revenue was 5.7 billion yuan.

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