Rewards of the journey
Updated: 2012-04-27 08:49
By Hu Haiyan and Ma Wei (China Daily)
Yin Mingshan, president of the Chongqing Lifan Group. Photo provided to China Daily
Editor's note: This is the first of a monthly series on Chinese private entrepreneurs.
But the real question that most of the visitors were posing seemed to be, "What is Lifan doing amid the BMWs, Aston Martins, Audis and Ferraris?" Yin Mingshan, the president of Chongqing Lifan Group, answers that it is part of the company's transition from the low-end market to the mid- and high-end market.
"Till now, most of our vehicles were sold in the low-end market and mostly in second- or third-tier cities. The Lifan 720 is our first attempt to move into the high-end market," he says.
Looking at the quiet and unassuming 74-year-old president, it is hard to see someone you would associate with aggressive expansion and adrenaline in a fiercely competitive Chinese marketplace.
Such skepticism is not new to Yin. Similar doubts were expressed when, at a time that most of his peers were preparing to retire, the then 54-year old Yin decided to seek his fortunes in the automobile industry.
In 1992, with nine employees, Yin started the Lifan Group in Chongqing, Southwest China, with a registered capital of 200,000 yuan (about $36,000 at the time). Nearly 20 years later, Lifan has become one of the largest motorcycle and automobile producers in China. The group's listed unit Lifan Industry (Group) Co Ltd reported revenue of 8.63 billion yuan ($1.37 billion, 1.04 billion euros) last year and a profit of 390 million yuan, a year-on-year increase of 2.19 percent.
Such impressive statistics should have kept most entrepreneurs happy. But Yin is preparing for even bigger things.
"I want Lifan to be the best automobile and motorcycle company in the world. To achieve this, it is important for us to expand our presence in the global markets and also make mid- and high-end vehicles."
At the same time, Yin admits that the transformation is not going to be an easy task. "It calls for unimaginable efforts from me and the company to achieve these goals," he says.
Growing up in a poor family in Fuling district in Chongqing municipality, Yin started dabbling in the world of business when he was 12 years old. His then job of selling needles was necessitated more by the desire to improve the life of his mother and to pay for his education. But just when he was ready to enter the university, the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) took place and he was forced to work on a farm for about 20 years.
"I spent most of my youth on a farm, and it seemed to be a big waste of time. Fortunately I did not give up my zeal for learning and utilized every opportunity to further my knowledge," he says.
After donning several hats including that of an English teacher and as an editor for a local publishing house, he decided to test his fortunes in the motorcycle industry. And much like his persona, it was a low-key entry with just nine employees and a 40-square-meter rented workshop.
"Many people told me that I was foolish to start a business when I was 54 years old. Even my family did not understand me then. There was tremendous pressure and I hardly knew anything about the motorcycle business. But in the bottom of my heart, I knew that this was an unprecedented opportunity, and I must seize it. My perseverance paid off and I have been able to successfully transform my life," Yin says.