Yan Cheung

  • December 23, 2010
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Yan Cheung

Born in Guangdong Province, Yan Cheung is the founder and director of the family company Nine Dragons Paper Holdings, a recycling company that buys scrap paper from the United States, imports it into China, and mainly turns it into cardboard for use in boxes to export Chinese goods. The company is China's biggest paper maker.
No Paper Tiger



Yan Cheung was born in Guangdong Province. Daughter of an army officer, she was the eldest of eight children. After studying financial accounting she found work as an accountant at an overseas paper-products trading company. It was during her time there that she got the idea of starting her own business. She moved to Hong Kong in 1985 and used the $4,000 she had saved to set up a wastepaper importing company. Five years later she and her husband, a Taiwan-born Brazil national, traveled to California to open a paper recycling plant whose products were destined for export to China. In 1995 she returned to China and, with her husband and brother, opened the Nine Dragons paper manufacturing company of which she is chairperson. Nine Dragons went public in March 2006, and Ms Cheung, her brother and husband are now billionaires.

Dreams and Brains  

Yan Cheung was 27 when she decided in 1985 to give up her home and well-paid job and move to Hong Kong to set up her own company. Starting out was no picnic. A perfectionist from way back, Ms Cheung refused to abide by the common practice in the papermaking business of adding water to the paper pulp after it had been through the pulping process to thin it out and make it go further. This scruple went against the interests of her peers in the trade and resulted in threatening phone calls from mafia-type organizations. But even after her business associates went behind her back and added water for reasons of personal safety, she would have no part of it, no matter what the risk. Ms Cheung's honesty, however, won her a good reputation and consequently regular suppliers of wastepaper. 

As the company's sources of wastepaper were limited to Hong Kong, Ms Cheung and her husband decided to go to California to start over. Her dream there was to be the head of the biggest recycled wastepaper exporter in the U.S. "The U.S. had rich resources. If I'd stayed in Hong Kong I wouldn't have been able to satisfy the China demand. As at the time most of China's paper was imported, the market potential was vast," Ms Cheung recalled. She and her husband Ming Chung Liu set up the America Chung Nam paper recycling company in L.A. and shipped its products to China. Getting started in the U.S. was also a challenge because of her limited English language skills. But Ms Cheung took to the American way of doing business like a duck to water. The US emphasis on discipline, professional standards and reputation matched exactly her personal work ethic.
"The U.S. left me with rich experience," Ms Cheng said. Since she became more fluent in English the Cheung family business has been the number one U.S. wastepaper exporter since 2001, and has generated around 10% of her personal fortune. Ms Cheung set up seven packaging factories and shipping companies during her ten years in the U.S.  

Her dream realized, Ms Cheung decided to explore business possibilities in China. Throughout the time she and her husband worked in the wastepaper business, China was always their main target. Before long they built up the Chinese market and eventually controlled 70% of the country's recycled paper. 

Yan Cheung believes that China's upgraded economic order and stable investment environment will enable her to expand her scale of investment. And as she says, "The money I earn in China will go towards expanding reproduction."  Yan Cheung's dream now is to repay her country through sustainable development of the wastepaper industry. 

Men and Women are Equal 

"The issue of gender equality has long since been solved," is Yan Cheung's belief. "This is self-evident amid the country's great economic boom. How far a woman advances depends on the role in life she herself wants to play, and on the clear communication she maintains with supportive family members," Ms Cheng concludes. 

(Sources: forbes.com & finance.sina.com./ Translated and edited by Sun Xi, womenofchina.cn)

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