Growing up in rural Jiangsu province, Yu Minhong saw education as a way to escape the farm.
But when it came to getting into university, he didn’t find instant success: he failed the national college entrance twice – in part due to a poor score in English. On his third try, he was accepted to study English at Peking University. After graduating in 1985, Yu became an English teacher at his alma mater.
Yu saw that many of his friends were going to the US to study. Although he was not keen to leave China himself, his wife wanted to go abroad. This led to more test preparation – and in 1988 he passed both the GRE and TOEFL exams. But not well enough to secure a scholarship. On his monthly salary of Rmb180, it would have taken him 222 years to save enough money to pay for four years of tuition in the US.
Yu had to find another way to make ends meet. He started a class outside Peking University that helped students prepare for TOEFL. But when his employer found out about his part-time work, he was disciplined. Yu resigned from Peking University in 1991.
In 1993, Yu launched New Oriental School, which would go on to develop a reputation as the place to prepare for exams like GRE and TOEFL. A couple of years later and he had earned enough money to visit the US, where he persuaded a number of his old classmates to return to China and join his company. In 2006, New Oriental listed on the Nasdaq, raising $112.5 million. Yu’s 31% stake must have made him China’s richest teacher.
Need to know
New Oriental has become China’s largest private education provider. The company’s key asset is its portfolio of short-course language schools (at the end of 2010, it had 41). It also runs a number of other educational establishments, including kindergartens. In 2010, the company made $77.8 million in profit. Yu is worth Rmb8 billion, according to the 2010 Hurun Rich List.
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