44 (40) Woon Wing Yip £80m (£73m)

The idea of a Chinese food business forging academic links with Cambridge University might seem bizarre. But to Woon Wing Yip, co-founder of the massive Wing Yip food empire, it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Professor Xin Sheng Zhau is a Wing Yip China Fellow in chemical biology at Churchill College Cambridge, underlining Woon Wing Yip’s commitment to education, and to seeing young people fulfil their potential.

He has also handed out close on 300 bursaries in eight years to youngsters of Chinese descent to help them complete their education in the UK.

Woon Wing Yip understands the value of education. It was his ability to speak English when he came to the UK from Hong Kong nearly 50 years ago that meant he could move up the ladder in business.

He is proud of the fact that his four children - Albert, Brian, Cindy and David, were all able to have a good education, thanks to their father’s success. All his children work in the business with the exception of Cindy who works for a television company in Hong Kong.

Woon Wing Yip, who is 69, arrived in the UK by boat from Hong Kong in 1959. He opened a restaurant in a former tea shop in Clacton-on-Sea and then went on to open three more restaurants and two takeaways in East Anglia. His first Chinese grocers shop opened in Digbeth, Birmingham in 1970. It employed just 10 people.

Now his food empire employs more than 300 people and turns over nearly £80 million a year. As well as selling Wing Yip branded products in his own supermarkets, they are also sold nationwide at Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose.

His food supermarkets and online Chinese food and kitchen equipment business has expanded its range to include other Far Eastern cuisines including Thai and Malaysian.

The Wing Yip business has also branched out into property development, management and investment, with more than 60 commercial and residential tenants around the country. The property portfolio is worth around £23 million.

Woon Wing Yip always remembers that it was Birmingham where his supermarket business began, and in gratitude he donated a 40ft-high granite pagoda to the city - it stands near the Chinese quarter in Holloway Head.

He also established the Wing Yip Charitable Trust, topped up by annual donations from the Wing Yip business, which gives money to educational, poverty relief and sickness charities.