Deft touch with screens has made ty­coon $7B

Ye­ung Kin-man a big player in sup­ply­ing cover glass to Sam­sung and Ap­ple

Toronto Star - - BUSINESS -

Ev­ery time you’ve swiped the screen on a new iPhone or en­tered keystrokes on your Gal­axy, you may have helped make Ye­ung Kin-man very rich.

Ye­ung is the founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Hong Kong-based Biel Crys­tal Man­u­fac­tory (HK) Ltd., one of the big­gest sup­pli­ers of cover glass to Ap­ple Inc. and Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics Co., the world’s two lead­ing smart­phone man­u­fac­tur­ers. His con­trol of the closely held busi­ness and abil­ity to fend off com­peti­tors such as pub­licly traded Lens Tech­nol­ogy Co., has given Ye­ung a net worth of $7.2 bil­lion (U.S.), ac­cord­ing to the Bloomberg Bil­lion­aires In­dex.

“In the field of cover glass, Biel has al­ways been the mar­ket leader,” said Terry Yu, a Shang­hai-based an­a­lyst at IHS Tech­nol­ogy. “Lens has been grow­ing very quickly, but it’s still trail­ing be­hind Biel. In the short term, I can’t see any chal­lengers to the two of them.”

Biel takes sheets of raw ma­te­rial supplied by glass man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Corn­ing Inc., the world’s largest sup­plier of raw ma­te­ri­als for smart­phone glass ac­cord­ing to Yu, and fash­ions them into pro­tec­tive cov­ers. The busi­ness had $3.2 bil­lion of rev­enue in 2013, Ye­ung said in a speech at the com­pany’s 2014 Chi­nese New Year cel­e­bra­tion. Sales in­creased the fol­low­ing year to about $4 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to state-owned fi­nan­cial news­pa­per Se­cu­ri­ties Daily.

Ye­ung en­tered the man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness al­most three decades ago sup­ply­ing glass cov­ers for watches. He be­gan mak­ing smart­phone cover glass af­ter he no­ticed that the plas­tic screen on his mo­bile phone scratched easily, ac­cord­ing to a re­port in Chutian Me­trop­o­lis Daily. That prompted him to rec­om­mend the use of glass to smart­phone man­u­fac­tur­ers, the news­pa­per said.

He started man­u­fac­tur­ing the cov­ers af­ter re­ceiv­ing an or­der of one mil­lion screens for the Mo­torola Razr, ac­cord­ing to the Hong Kong Eco­nomic Jour­nal. The com­pany snagged Ap­ple as a cus­tomer when the first-gen­er­a­tion iPhone was re­leased in 2007, the re­port says.

Op­er­at­ing out of fac­to­ries in the south­ern Chi­nese cities of Shen­zhen and Huizhou, Biel has be­come the big­gest cover-glass maker in the in­dus­try, ac­cord­ing to Claire Ohm, a spokes­woman at LG Dis­play Co., a dig­i­tal dis­play prod­uct maker that’s also a cus­tomer. “A large por­tion of cover glass we use is largely supplied by this com­pany,” she said.

Zhu Jix­i­ang, a Shang­hai-based an­a­lyst at Cap­i­tal Se­cu­ri­ties, cites Biel’s mar­ket dom­i­nance as a bar­rier to en­try for new en­trants. “It’s hard to see a third party rise to be­come a com­peti­tor,” Zhu said.

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