Duan entered Zhejiang University in 1978, majoring in wireless electronics engineering. After graduation, he became a teacher at the adult education center of the Beijing Radio Tube Factory. Later, he studied at Renmin University, where he majored in econometrics. He also studied in CEIBS as an EMBA student for two years.
He first worked in Beijing in a small factory manufacturing electronic parts. While there he was enrolled in Renmin University and obtained his masters degree in econometrics. In the 1980s, southern China was at the frontline of the economic reform movement, so Duan, like many other young people, went to Guangdong to seek new career opportunities. When he joined SUBOR in 1989, it was only a small factory with fewer than 20 workers, RMB2 million debt and only RMB3000 cash. Within five years, Duan transformed SUBOR into a leading manufacturer for learning and gaming machines in China, generating as much as RMB100 million profit a month during 1994–95. However in 1995, Duan left SUBOR and founded BBK. Commenting on his bold move, Duan told a newspaper during an interview: ‘In order to obtain a long-term development, an enterprise must experience systematical reform. When I realized that the direction of development is not correct, I have to stop; the later I stop, the worse the situation will be’ (Linglai and Yu, 2007).
The ‘wrong direction’ in this case was SUBOR’s disapproval of his stock ownership reform. Under Duan’s leadership, BBK has become a very successful company with a 20 percent market share of DVD players in China from 2001 to 2003. It is also a leading brand in the Chinese telephone and stereo markets. In 2005, BBK also moved into high-end electronic products and established the OPPO brand for its MP3 players, taking BBK into the top three manufacturers of MP3 players in China. Before Duan’s time, electronic products made in Guangdong were known for their inferior quality. Under his strict quality control and efficiency management, BBK products, although still made in Guangdong, have established a brand value nationwide to the extent that when a Chinese considers buying a DVD player or a wireless telephone, Bu Bu Gao is more than likely the first brand to consider.