Zhang Yin: The World's Richest Woman

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Zhang Yin might be the Bill Gates of bulk-recycled paper. The low-profile mother of two went from humble beginnings in China, to a top ranking on the list of the world's richest people. In fact, Forbes ranked the owner and founder of Nine Dragons Paper as the wealthiest self-made woman in the world.

With an estimated net worth of more than $3.4 billion, Zhang Yin has more money than both Oprah Winfrey and "Harry Potter" creator J.K. Rowling. In schools, Zhang is lauded as an example to young Chinese girls of their unlimited potential and ability. In Chinese media, she has been likened to Hua Mulan, the 6th Century folk heroine who succeeded in a male dominated culture by joining the all-male army and protecting her homeland.

A Folk Heroine is Made of Paper

Zhang Yin's beginnings were not unlike that of Mulan. Like the folk heroine, Zhang moved from modest beginnings to enormous success against a number of obstacles. Also, she was born a soldier's daughter in a northern province. The eldest sister of seven siblings, Zhang and her family faced pressure and intimidation from the Communist government in China and members of the mafia.

In 1985, Zhang moved to Hong Kong and started her first waste paper trading company with just a few thousand dollars. Despite financial difficulties and unscrupulous business partners, Zhang managed to build her wealth. Five years later, she and her husband left for the United States.

In America, the enterprise that would become Nine Dragons was born. Because there was a shortage of paper materials in China, her paper trading business was not doing as well as Zhang would have liked. In the U.S., however, she had no such problem. There was plenty of waste paper everywhere she and her husband looked. Zhang set up a system to collect and bundle the paper in America, then send it to China to be processed into usable paper products. Once the waste paper was converted into boxes, cardboard, and other paper products; they were sold. Ironically, although the American raw materials were shipped across the Pacific for processing, many of Zhang's buyers ended up being American companies.

Zhang's Continued Success

To help with the workload and gain control of her operations in China, Zhang set up Nine Dragons Paper Industries Ltd. in Guangdong Province, China to accompany her American business. Currently, her businesses are capable of producing 3.3 million tons of paper products and Nine Dragons claims multinational businesses like Nike, Sony, TCL, and Coca-Cola as regular customers.

Being the world's richest woman has not dampened Zhang's ambitions. On the company website, it states that the two Chinese companies are "rapidly expanding" and Nine Dragons will be a super-sized paper manufacturer by June of 2007. In the future, Nine Dragons hopes to boost its production to 5.35 million tons a year.

As for Zhang's personal ambitions, she prefers to maintain a low profile. However, there are hints that Nine Dragons will remain a family business. Her husband, sons and other family members run major parts of the operations. One thing she has made clear: Nine Dragons will not be offered up to foreign interests anytime soon. Zhang Yin will retain the title "Empress of Paper" for years to come.