People throughout the world has heard of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk. These innovative business leaders of America have inspired millions and (even in death) continue to influence the industry. However, there is an emerging group of Chinese business leaders that you must know about (Learn about China’s greatest inventions). You simply must become familiar with them because they are disrupting the world trade order, and it is a swift movement.
Perhaps to your surprise, you have heard of or even own some of these entrepreneurs products, for example: Lenovo. Other companies on this list, you will likely hear of within the next few years. Another set strictly heard of in the Chinese world and may never become popular abroad. Most importantly, whether you are familiar or not, they are all tremendously important and influential! (Learn how to do business with China)
For your convenience, I have put together a list of these leaders and their company. They are rated by their entrepreneurship, influence, and effectiveness. Here it is, the best list of Top Ten Influential Chinese Business Leaders:
10. Zhang Jindong
Just in June 2016, retail giant 张近东 (zhāng jìndōng) demonstrated his wealth and influence by announcing a majority stake purchase of football team Inter Milan, a $306 million bid. His company, Suning, combines digital and offline retail and has been a great success since its start in 1990.
The brand is among the most recognizable in the country with nearly 2000 chain stores in more than 300 cities, including their Hong Kong and Japan branches. On China’s own list of top 500 companies, it is #54.
Although his retail business is not so fascinating, his story to success is worth a read. Mr. Zhang originally studied Chinese literature at college, but went to work in a cloth factory when he graduated. After four years, he started his own appliance store with his brother. 15 years later in 2005, Suning became nationally recognized.
9. Lei Jun
Similarly to Mark Zuckerberg, 雷军 (léi jūn) is casually flamboyant. He leads Xiaomi, a cheap, suspiciously iPhone-looking smartphone. Many in China also call him the Chinese Steve Jobs.
Just a few months after Xiaomi opened for business, the company reached $1 billion in revenues. After only 3 years, Xiaomi was worth $10 billion. By 2014, the company pushed Samsung off its number 1 spot as China’s leading smartphone seller, selling 61 million phones in total.
Prior to Xiaomi, Lei Jun gained business and tech experience with Kingsoft, China’s top word-processing program. He became the company’s CEO in 1998. Over the next decade, he launched a number of start-ups, including Joyo.com that sold to Amazon.
8. Li Shufu
Originally a farmer from Zhejiang Province, 李书福 (lǐ shūfú) had his own business from his teenage years. His first attempt at entrepreneurship was to sell valuable metals from discarded equipment. A number of efforts later, Li finally established China’s first privately owned motorcycle factory in 1993.
His company become one of China’s biggest private companies as it developed into a complete automaker enterprise. Li’s company, Geely, entered the international stage with the purchase of Volvo from Ford for $1.8 billion. At this point, nothing could stop Mr. Li as he has since purchased a number of other auto companies, including London’s famous black taxis, Manganese Bronze.
With little help from the Chinese government, Li Shufu has accomplished what few have ever done in China. It’s entirely possible that he will revive the Volvo brand and change the way people think about his country’s ability to innovate.
7. Wang Jianlin
Popularly known as China’s richest man, 王健林 (Wáng Jiànlín) has accomplished a lot as the founder of Wanda Group. His company focuses on two industries: real estate development and movie theaters. As China’s largest real estate developer and world’s largest owner of movie theaters, it’s safe to say that Wang Jianlin hasn’t done so bad.
His family often gets the attention of the media. During an interview, his son, Wang Sicong, once said,”I don’t care if my friends are rich or not. After all, they can’t possibly be richer than I am.”
Any city you go to in China, the most flashy and well-designed properties most likely belong to Wanda. In Wuhan, Wang’s company owns a former colonial street which is now the city’s most popular shopping and hang-out place. And at every city in China, everyone knows, the best movie-going experience is at a Wanda theater.
6. Zhang Ruimin
The revenues of 张瑞敏‘s (Zhāng Ruìmǐn) company, Haier, far exceed those of its two rivals, Europe’s Electrolux and America’s Whirlpool, at $29.5 billion. The company is the world’s largest seller of air conditioners, washing machines, and many other major home appliances. It’s very possible that your home has a Haier product.
The company itself is amazing, but the story the behind its owner reveals why Haier is so competitive. Zhang had no college degree, and his parents worked in garment factories as a profession. He began work in a construction-material factory, fighting his way up to management with the help of knowledge he gained from reading business books every chance he could.
Eventually, he was appointed to manage the Qingdao Refrigerator Factory, a rundown and broken institution. His #1 priority was to develop a high-quality product, as good as foreign brands. He first beat out domestic competition with this model and then was able to go international due to Haier being an economical choice. Zhang’s story is truly one of the most stunning on the list.
5. Ren Zhengfei
The founder of Huawei, 任正非 (Rèn Zhēngfēi), is a former People’s Liberation Army soldier that used only $5,600 to start what would become the world’s largest manufacturer of telecom-network equipment. The initial business model from the 1980s was to sell imported telecom equipment from Hong Kong. By 1990, Huawei was capable of launching its own products.
While foreign companies in the industry such as Nokia and Ericsson dominated in the 1990s, Huawei swept across the nation in the 2000s and took its product overseas. Mr. Ren’s insistence on continuous research and development is the principle reason Huawei expanded and beat its competition.
Much like the other companies on this list, Huawei saw success due to its cheaper price. Support from the government and proximity to the manufacturing base has played an integral role for Mr. Ren to create an attractive brand.
4. Liu Chuanzhi
Lenovo is China’s most internationally oriented enterprise. 柳传志 (Liǔ Chuánzhì) has not only created an appealing PC. He made the world’s largest computer seller and the world’s third-largest seller of smartphones.
Much of the company’s success, however, falls on other’s hard work, as well. Yang Yuanqing helped by making the decision to buy IBM’s PC division for $1.75 billion in 2005. Since then, Lenovo has seen quick and steady progress.
Since 2013, Lenovo has launched 180 different products annually. Their innovative technology has attracted buyers from over 160 countries. The executives say that the company plans to conduct aggressive acquisitions to increase the quality of their products and to ensure economic prices for customers.
3. Robin Li
A former computer science doctorate student at The State University of New York, Robin Li is certainly the one with the most experience outside of China. However, his accomplishments are mostly due to timing and permitting users to download pirated materials, rather than pure innovation.
His company, Baidu, is also known as the “Chinese Google”. However, since it’s inception in 2000, Baidu persuaded users away from Yahoo and Google by creating a “Baidu Music” tab that offered free downloads of almost any song. By 2005, Li had snatched 40% of the search engine market share. When Google left China in 2010, a vacuum was created. Li seized the opportunity, and now his company’s market share sits at about 90%.
2. Jack Ma
Some question if anything is not possible for Alibaba’s 马云 (Mǎ Yún). Of all the Chinese business leaders, he is perhaps the most publicly known, domestically and internationally. Part of his recognition is due to his unhandsome looks. Jack Ma himself often talks about how being unseemly has been a source of motivation.
His company, Alibaba, has accomplished the implausible; when a barrier appeared, Mr. Ma invented a solution. The original platform of Alibaba was originally designed to help foreign companies to connect with Chinese businesses. The idea worked, and Jack Ma decided to expand by imitating eBay by creating online shopping websites. The problem was that China didn’t use credit cards at the time.
To get around this problem, Jack Ma’s company forged China’s e-commerce industry! Ma quickly established accounts in every bank of China. Set up the online shipping website Taobao. Within a matter of weeks, so-called Alipay was established. Today, the system is responsible for processing half of all online transactions in China. Ma’s original business that connects companies is the world’s largest of its kind.
Jack Ma’s personal life story is truly interesting. If one were to read a biography of one of these Chinese business leaders, Jack Ma would be the one I recommend.
1. Pony Ma
Although with the same surname as Jack Ma, 马化腾 (Mǎ Huàténg) and his main competitor only share a take-no-prisoners stance on business. Although less known outside of China, Ma’s products are used by everyone in China. Pony Ma therefore has been snugly the richer of the two.
Pony Ma’s best known product is a free instant-messaging program called QQ. This was nearly a direct copy of an Israeli software called ICQ. This program invented a new business model: selling value-adding accessories to users for very low costs. What kind of accessories? Users buy anything from emoji to cosmetic changes such as color schemes (for a few cents a month). At 800 million active accounts in the 2000s, a small response rate meant a huge payout, leading to the companies continued growth.
Although QQ is Ma’s bread and butter, his larger group of brands and companies is named Tencent. Most recently, WeChat has become Ma’s assault on the business front-lines. This is a free chat service downloadable for smartphones and incorporates elements of e-commerce. Pony Ma witnessed Jack Ma’s success in e-commerce with envy, and experts on the matter say Pony is trying hard to make his Tenpay brand more competitive with Jack’s Alipay.
Chinese Business Leaders
In almost every industry, Chinese business leaders have been at the forefront of competition with international brands (China’s manufacturing). In the process, they have developed a “Chinese flavor” for all the typical products that we all know, such as smartphones and chat services. This is all contrary to what the media would like us to believe, but China’s creativity is truly burgeoning!
Just in 2016, it has been declared that over 100,000 Americans now work for Chinese companies (how to do business with China). Most of these work from within the US. Many of those work for the entrepreneurs listed above. All of this is good news!
It shows that China’s private sector is taking the challenge to China’s state-owned enterprises. It also increases cooperation between these two powerful nations, the US and China. Let’s embrace China’s private business leaders!