Who is the billionaire behind Oppo, the smartphone giant that arrives in Brazil

Who is the billionaire behind Oppo, the smartphone giant that arrives in Brazil

Oppo, the world’s fourth largest manufacturer of smartphones, announced today the start of its operation in Brazil to compete with companies such as Samsung, Motorola, Apple and Xiaomi, reveals Valor Econômico. The company debuted in the Latin American market with the start of operations in Mexico, and has already announced its entry into Chile and Colombia.

But little is known here about the company – and its owners. Founded in 2004, Oppo first launched an MP3 and its first cell phone came only in 2008 – already a smartphone, in 2011. The international expansion of the brand began the following year, in Thailand, and today it is in 60 countries, with and audio and video devices.

Oppo is a subsidiary of the BBK Electronics group, owned by discreet billionaire businessman Duan Yongping, 61. He makes few public appearances as he finds social events tiring and a waste of time – he says there are few friendships worth making and he prefers to use his free time to play golf.

Until the beginning of the 90’s, the electronic engineer was an employee of a state valve factory, and also studied economics in parallel. With the first more liberal moves of capitalist China, Yongping took over a practically broken electronics plant and restructured the business with the launch of a game console, with campaigns starring Jackie Chan.

Yongping had heard about the success of Nintendo’s Famicom in the United States and Japan, but the brand’s model was still not very accessible in China – Subor practically copied it, but was much cheaper. Despite the success of the device, the company did not give much space to Yongping’s other ideas and he decided to open his own business, creating BBK.

The sale of CD and DVD players made the businessman a fortune, who in the early 2000s moved with his family to California to devote himself to investments and philanthropy. It was his promise to his wife to move to “America” and his strong interest in stocks also motivated (avid reader of Warren Buffett’s letters, he paid $620,000 to win a luncheon auction with the mega-investor in 2006).

But the “quiet” didn’t last long. The industry has been disrupted by new gadgets and technologies such as smartphones. Rivals Huawei and Coolpad took millions and millions of audio and video sales from BBK.

Yongping and his right-hand man, executive Tony Chen, decided to try the fight before throwing in the towel, and launched the Oppo brand – which explains why Chen, Oppo’s CEO, is often named as the founder. The Vivo brand, another power in the category, was launched by BBK years later, under the command of another executive trusted by the businessman, Shen Wein.

The corporate structure of BBK and Oppo is not very clear. It is unknown whether Tony Chen is a partner at Oppo or directly at BBK.

Despite being sister brands, Oppo and Vivo behave like rivals, vying for market share and opposing each other in advertising campaigns. BBK also owns other smartphone brands such as Oneplus, Realme and IQOO.

According to the specialized website Asia Markets, the entrepreneur usually delegates: if he has found an executive or even a competent partner to run a business, he dedicates his time to other things, maintaining himself as chairman of BBK – a different profile not only from the average of billionaires in technology, but also of Asian entrepreneurs in general.

Despite shying away from the spotlight, he is accessible to entrepreneurs who seek his advice, such as Huang Zheng, the founder of Pinduoduo (the entrepreneur took Zheng to join him for lunch with Buffett).

In a conversation with Stanford students in 2018, Youngping said that one of his compasses is to create a list of not-to-do, referring to Apple’s culture of a “Stop Doing List”, with professional and personal learnings. “Resisting doing the wrong thing is more important than doing the right thing,” he said.

The businessman is proud to have made life difficult for Apple in the Chinese market, with more competitive products, but admits to being an admirer of the brand and having looked up to it. In a rare interview with Bloomberg years ago, the businessman said he had met Tim Cook several times at events and meetings, but he wasn’t sure the Apple CEO knew who he was. Yongping also invests in the shares of the American competitor – for some a kind of hedge, for him, an investment in an extraordinary company, whatever the sector.

Buffett and Duan Yongping, in 2006: owner of the Oppo and Vivo brands bought lunch with an investor — Photo: Reproduction

Brazil is the fifth largest cell phone market in the world and the last big news here in the brand dispute was in 2015, with the arrival of the also Chinese Xiaomi. According to Valor, Oppo arrives in the Brazilian market with the launch of an intermediate smartphone compatible only with 3G and 4G networks, although 5G networks have debuted in the country at the beginning of the month and Oppo’s Reno7 line already has a 5G version sold in other countries.

At first, Oppo’s devices sold in Brazil will be imported from China and the company did not inform about the intention to manufacture locally. It may be that Oppo just wants to probe the ground first, as at conferences Tony Chen highlights the relevance of 5G technology in the brand strategy, with more than 2 thousand patents and applications registered by the company for these standards.

Source: Value Pipeline

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