Although China leads several markets and sectors, especially in the technological field, it is still a complete stranger for many. The difference in language, writing and culture are a barrier for the so-called Western world. And unless you understand or speak Chinese, it will be very difficult for you know something more than what they tell the few correspondents who live there. To this must be added his business secrecy. An example of all this is that, at street level, few know that the leading smartphone manufacturer is a conglomerate that owns such popular brands as OPPO or ALIVE. Together, they make this business group the leader in the manufacture of smartphones.
The cold war between United States and China at a technological level it focused on Huawei, known to the public for its smartphones, which reached 20% of the world market. The blockade of the United States has relegated it to 4% in the first quarter of 2021. But that blockade was focused on technology related to antennas, chips and other elements that make possible the deployment of the 5G mobile phone and in which China is the most advanced.
On the other hand, in the world smartphone market, although the lists are led by the South Korean Samsung, the American Manzana and the china XiaomiIf we group all the brands under their company or owner group, the reality is that the leading smartphone manufacturer is a stranger. His name is BBK, BBK Electronics Corporation or BBK Group. And it owns such well-known brands as OPPO, LIVE, Realme and OnePlus. But how was this empire born? Who is behind such an achievement?
The beginnings of Duan Yongping
Those most familiar with the smartphone market in China will know that Ren zhengfei is the founder of Huawei and Lei Jun it is from Xiaomi. But there is another great name that explains China’s success in the mobile phone industry. His name is Duan yongping and he has lived in California, United States for years.
Duan Yongping. Source: Panda! Yoo
Duan yongping created BBK in 1995 in Dongguan city, China. Divided into three main branches, its areas of action were to be mobile or wireless telephony, audiovisual electronics and electronic products focused on education. Four years later, those branches would become three separate companies: BBK Education Electronics, BBK Audiovisual Electronics, and BBK Communications Electronics. The branch that interests us in this article, of course, is the third, that of communications.
But let’s pause to explain the origins of Duan yongping, today a billionaire and, according to many, one of the fathers of Chinese mobile telephony. Born in 1961 in Nanchang, China, he studied radio electronic engineering at Zhejiang University. After graduating, he began his professional life in a state company dedicated to manufacturing vacuum tubes, the Beijing Electron Tube Factory. Later he studied econometrics at the University of Renmin, obtaining a master’s degree in economics. Yongping already had enough knowledge to succeed in technology and finance.
Subor Study Machine advertisement. Source: Kotaku
The first big success of Duan yongping He arrived in 1989. That year he started working at Zhongshan Rihua Electronics. There, Yongping will see a great opportunity in home appliances. More specifically in video game consoles. Under the name of Subor Electronics, Duan creates a clone of the Famicom, the name that in Japan received the well-known European NES console, an acronym for Nintendo Entertainment System. Importing this console and its games to China was expensive and complicated. The result, a succession of clones. And one of the most successful will be the Yongping clone. It was so good that it even supported original Nintendo cartridges.
Part of the success of this video game console was the advertising campaign starring Jackie Chan, the popular Chinese actor and icon. Another great success was to sell the console as an educational computer, in the style of the Friend and Commodore. Thus, the target audience bought a game console while the Chinese government and parents bought a computer for young people to study at home. Hence his name was Subor Study Machine.
The origin of the giant BBK
Yongping manages to rescue a ruined factory and turns it into a more than profitable company. Hence Yongping has in mind that Subor Electronics separates from its parent company, the group Zhongshan. Obviously, they don’t want to, so Yongping decides to go it alone. From this separation is born BBK Electronics in 1995. Its acronym corresponds to the Chinese word Bubugao. Its meaning is to climb step by step.
BBK Electronics will take its first steps manufacturing televisions, MP3 players, digital cameras and other electronic devices. It will also be a smartphone manufacturer. As we saw before, it will become three divisions: education, audiovisual and communications. Precisely, this third branch will be the most successful thanks to the manufacture of smartphones. All in all, its sales of multimedia consumer products make it a leader in its sector.
But let’s focus on smartphones. In 2001, BKK registered the trademark OPPO which will become a company in 2004. Its headquarters will be in Dongguan, as will BBK itself. As a curiosity, the newly created OPPO will be made up of the employees of BBK Audiovisual Electronics, one of the branches of BBK and which went bankrupt in 2003. Known for its smartphones, for years it also manufactured sound and home cinema devices, portable batteries and Blu-Ray players.
But the great success of OPPO And, therefore, from BBK, it is thanks to Android, Google’s operating system for smartphones. With the popularity of Android, OPPO decides to make Android smartphones. In 2016 it will become the main Chinese phone manufacturer. Precisely, as a result of Android, in 2009 BBK created the brand ALIVE which replaces the devices under the BBK Communications Electronics brand.
Divide and conquer
Not content with these two brands, which will overshadow the iPhone in China, BBK continues its expansion creating new brands to be a leading smartphone manufacturer. In 2013 it will launch another brand, OnePlus. In 2018 another brand was born within BBK, Realme, a subsidiary of OPPO, like OnePlus. And in 2019, is born iQOO, a brand associated with VIVO, and under OPPO a new brand is created, Realme. In just over fifteen years, five different brands that operate separately but belong to the same conglomerate.
For more inri, Duan yongping left BBK and emigrated with his wife Liu Xin to the United States in 2002. He had achieved his economic independence, as the Americans say, and could now retire early and lead a life living on income and investments. In other words, this hodgepodge of brands has been developing without Yongping’s leadership. However, it has continued to influence these brands and their conglomerate indirectly. For example, it inspired the brand OnePlus, focused on the western markets in which Apple and Samsung triumphed. According to various sources, its founder Pete Lau traveled to California seeking advice from Yongping himself.
Yongping’s strategy, when it created BBK, was from the beginning to divide itself into several smaller companies, each focused on different products, audiences and markets. This philosophy has been followed at BBK after his departure thanks to the people he surrounded himself with. An example, Chen mingyong. He first led BBK Audiovisual Electronics Company, one of the three divisions of parent company BBK Electronics. And after his bankruptcy, he was the visible head, founder and CEO of OPPO. Without going further, Pete lau, founder and CEO of OnePlus, had been vice president of OPPO. AND Li Bingzhong, founder and CEO of Realme, had also been vice president of OPPO.
But there is more. BBK Communications Company, another of the three divisions of BBK Electronics, became what it is today ALIVE. Its founder, president and CEO is Shen Wei, who had once led the original division. The only profile that comes out of this relationship is that of Gagan Arora, CEO of iQOO. The reason is that iQOO was created to operate mainly in the Indian market, where Arora had more experience.
On the other hand, each of BBK’s subsidiary brands operates in different markets, in some cases in apparent competition with more than one own smartphone manufacturer. Although they are all of Chinese origin, iQOO specialized in India, Realme it also operates mainly in India. For its part, OnePlus emerged as a brand to introduce its mobile phones in the United States and Europe, among other western markets. For its part, ALIVE It is powerful in Asian markets such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and in others such as Russia, among others. Finally, OPPO It was born and led China for years and today it is a brand present all over the globe.