Hong Kong - Just five years ago, Zhang Yin and her husband were driving
around the United States in a used Dodge Caravan minivan, begging garbage dumps
to give them their scrap paper.
She and her husband, who was trained as a dentist, had formed a company in
the 1990s to collect paper for recycling and ship it to China. It was a step up
from life in Hong Kong, where she had opened a paper-trading company with
US$3,800 to cash in on China's chronic paper shortages.
"I remember what a man in the business told me back then," Zhang Yin said.
"He said, 'Waste paper is like a forest. Paper recycles itself, generation after
Zhang took that memory all the way to the bank. As a result of her
entrepreneurship, she is now richer than virtually any other woman anywhere in
the world, including Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, and the chief executive of
eBay, Meg Whitman. Her personal wealth is estimated at US$1.5 billion or more.
Her companies take heaps of waste paper from the United States and Europe,
ship it to China and recycle it into corrugated cardboard, which is then used
for boxes that are packed with toys, electronics and furniture that are stamped
"Made in China" and then often shipped right back across the ocean to Western
After the boxes are thrown away, the cycle starts all over again.
Late last year, Forbes magazine named Zhang the wealthiest woman in China.
She may even be the richest self-made woman in the world, challenging a handful
of others, like Giuliana Benetton, who started the Italian clothing company with
her brothers, and Rosalia Mera, who co-founded Zara, the Spanish clothing
retailer, with her former husband.