Share this on Twitter Share this on Facebook Share this on LinkedIn Share this on Sina Weibo Share this on Wechat Share this on LinkedIn Vivo smartphones on display Credit: Patcharaporn Puttipon 636, Shutterstock You may have heard about the popularity of Chinese smartphone brands like Vivo and Oppo, but are you familiar with the name “BBK Electronics?” Duan Yongping, the company’s secretive billionaire founder, is sometimes referred to as the “godfather” of China’s smartphone industry and is, in one way or another, behind the mobile phone brands Vivo, Oppo, OnePlus and Realme. Together, these brands sold more than 250 million mobile handsets last year — more than Apple, Huawei or Xiaomi. Only Samsung, the global leader, sells more smartphones. BBK ad from the early 2000s Credit: BBK promotional materials Duan got his start in the early 1990s producing a cheap competitor to a Nintendo gaming console, and in 1995, he started BBK, which sold a range of electronics products, including DVD and MP3 players. In 1999, BBK was restructured into three separate companies, run by his protegees: Chen Mingyong, Huang Yihe Miao and Shen Wei, two of whom later esSubscribe or login to read the rest. Subscribers get full access to: Exclusive longform investigative journalism, Q&As, news and analysis, and data on Chinese business elites and corporations. We publish China scoops you won't find anywhere else. A weekly curated reading list on China from David Barboza, Pulitzer Prize-winning former Shanghai correspondent for The New York Times. A daily roundup of China finance, business and economics headlines. We offer discounts for groups, institutions and students. Go to our Subscriptions page for details.