Tao Huabi Went From Selling Noodles to Running a Billion Dollar Business

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Digital illustration by Michael Saintil

One of China's richest entrepreneurs is a 70-year-old, Bentley-driving, chili-sauce-making grandmother named Tao Huabi—and her story is pretty incredible.

Born in Guizhou, one one of China's poorest provinces, Huabi made money selling noodles on the streets of her hometown, Guiyang. She came to earn the name Lao Gan Ma—or “Old Godmother”—because of her habit of giving free food to students who couldn't afford to pay. In 1997, with little formal education and $146,000 in savings, she founded Laoganma Special Flavour Foodstuffs Co. to start packaging and selling her popular chili sauce, according to Quartz.

Today, Huabi's Lao Gan Ma sauce is one of the most popular condiments in China and is coveted internationally. The company brought in $655 million in 2016 and employs 4,000 people, helping transform the Guizhou province's economy into one of the fastest growing in the nation.

And with a net worth of over $1 billion, Huabi has become an icon in her own right. In China, she's known online as "China's Hottest Woman" and @openingceremony even sold hoodies featuring the picture of her face that appears on every jar of her sauce at New York Fashion Week.

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