China's Queen of Lighting is a billionaire

There was 'gold in them thar hills' in 1849 America. Fast forward to 2015, head to China, replace 'hills' with 'LEDs', and say hello to at least one person who appears to be mining a fortune from the future of lighting: Ma Xiuhui, CEO of Shanghai-based global lighting wunderkind and LED specialist Opple Lighting.

Ma and her family are worth $1.63 billion, according to US business magazine Forbes, enough for Forbes to rank her as China's 96th wealthiest person. 

This past year appears to have been particularly enriching for Ma, known in her home country as the Queen of Lighting. As Forbes noted, she catapulted onto the magazine's annual China Rich List for the first time ever. The 2013 ranking of the top 400 bottomed out at $700 million, so that means that Ma rocketed from somewhere below that paltry sum to 2014's $1.63 billion – more than doubling her riches, judging by Forbes' numbers.

The magazine reported Ma's sources of wealth as 'LED lighting, self made.' She co-founded the company in 1996 with her husband, Wang Hai, and now employes 6,000 people around the world, with 2013 revenues of $551 million, Forbes noted.

As we've reported here at Lux, Opple epitomizes much of what is roughing up the conventional lighting companies, by aggressively marketing LED lamps at low prices. While traditional stalwarts like Philips, Osram and GE are also embracing LED technology, they must still support the costs of their legacy business in conventional lamps such as incandescents. For them, the shift to LEDs has not been a lucrative – not yet, anyway.

Relative newcomers like Opple do not share the burden of an old lighting business. Nevertheless, they, too face an uncertain future because LEDs bulbs are purported to last for 20 years and more. Such longevity deprives the industry of its conventional profit sources of selling replacement bulbs, and means that vendors will have to rely on new revenue streams such as selling lighting services. (Philips, for instance, yesterday teamed up with Google to tie LED lamps into the internet).

For now, Ma and Opple are thriving by selling lamps and by relentlessly expanding around the world, such as in India and in Europe.

It will be interesting to see how 2015 shapes up for the Queen.

Photo is from Opple