There were no toys, little medicine and some days no food, but Junling Liu insists an impoverished childhood was the best present his parents could ever give him.
Perhaps it was the lack of food, or perhaps the unfolding future of hard winters and dry summers – whatever the reason, Mr Liu wanted out.
“The only way to get out of that life was to get through matriculation and go to university. So that’s what I did,” Mr Liu said.
It was at Flinders University where he earned his Bachelor of Teaching degree.
“As someone who was educated in China, we used to be taught what to think, not how to think, and studying at Flinders liberated my mind quite a bit.
After completing his degree, Mr Liu worked in the outback town of Cleve. A few years teaching in Adelaide followed, but a nagging desire for greater challenges took him back to Flinders.
He completed his MBA in international business management, Mr Liu before taking a junior role at Lucent Technologies in Singapore. Within four years he was running an Asia-Pacific business unit. A series of roles with multinationals followed and before long he was ensconced behind the President’s desk at Dell China.
It was on a long flight in between business meetings after reading the inflight magazine that Mr Liu was struck by a new idea. The idea – selling groceries online to Chinese consumers – became Mr Liu’s first company, YiHaoDian – No.1 Store in English.
Mr Liu and his partner later sold the online grocery company to Wal-mart and he set up 111.com.cn as a side business in 2012. It is already the biggest online drugstore in China.
Talent, creativity and persistence may have made him an icon in online retailing, but Mr Liu rushes to credit the people who have helped him find his way – and never forgets where his life began.
“My parents taught me how to strive for a better life and when you set yourself a goal, you put 100 per cent of yourself into it,” Mr Liu said.