Deft touch with screens has made tycoon $7B
Yeung Kin-man a big player in supplying cover glass to Samsung and Apple
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.