The Next Big Thing

Top 5 most popular Chinese internet entrepreneurs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2015, 7:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2015, 7:01am

Information and communication technology (ICT) companies are at the forefront of the Chinese central government's push to encourage mass innovation to counter economic downturn. ICT tycoons top China's rich list and have become icons for young prospective entrepreneurs as their success attracts huge capital flows and talent across the country and even the world.

SCMP staff reporters have examined the market and identified five of the most popular CEOs in the industry. Their inclusion is based on their public exposure, influence on Chinese society and governemnt, and public recognition of their company's role in promoting innovation.


Jack Ma Yun, Alibaba

Alibaba's New York public offering, then the largest in history, briefly made the the 51 year old Ma the richest person in China in 2014 with a fortune of more than US$28.7 billion. On 'Single's Day' on November 11, 2014, the world's largest online shopping festival, Alibaba saw its online sales reach 57.1 billion yuan (US$9.19 billion) by midnight. Also in 2014, articles about Ma were the most read by Chinese mobile users, with more than 407 million people perusing news about the e-commerce mogul.

READ MORE: Jack Ma takes Li Ka-shing's crown as Asia's richest man


Robin Li Yanhong, Baidu

Handsome, with a down-to-earth background and inspiring start-up story, the 47 year old Li has always been a favourite among Chinese women and young people. The son of factory workers, Li went to the US to study a doctoral degree in computer science. In 1999, he returned to China to found Baidu with Eric Xu Yong. Since then the company has gone on to become the most popular search engine in China (helped in part by the government blocking Google) and has expanded into other services, software, and hardware.

READ MORE: How Baidu is moving beyond search, with automated cars and artificial intelligence


Pony Ma Huateng, Tencent

Ma founded Tencent in 1998 when was 27 years old. Six years later, he led the company to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Tencent has since become one of the best performing stocks of the past decade, growing by 12,200 per cent. Revenues in 2014 grew by 31 per cent to 78.93 billion yuan. The company is best known for its messaging apps QQ and WeChat, which between them boast more than 1.3 billion monthly active users.

READ MORE: A tale of two internet leaders, Tencent vs Alibaba


Lei Jun, Xiaomi

Fourty-six year old Lei has defied his critics, who mocked him when he attacked Apple and Steve Jobs in the early days of Xiaomi, to become China's top smartphone maker. Xiaomi has succeeded in capturing a huge slice of the "diaosi" (a self-deprecating term similar to "geek" or "loser" used by young people in China) market, building up a dedicated fanbase similar to that of Apple's. Building on the company's success in its home country, Xiaomi has also expanded to Southeast Asia and India.

READ MORE: How Xiaomi's Lei Jun earned the right to call himself China's Steve Jobs


Richard Liu Qiangdong, JD

Liu founded Jingdong Century Trading in 1998 with just 12,000 yuan, originally focusing on selling magneto-optical products. He launched his first online retail site in 2004, and founded JD.com later that year. While it has struggled in the past to compete with rival Alibaba's Taobao and Tmall platforms, JD go a much needed boost in March 2014 when Tencent bought a 15 per cent stake in the company for US$214 million. Within months of the deal, JD successfully debuted on the Nasdaq, beating Alibaba to IPO and vaulting Liu into the ranks of China's super-rich with a personal worth of around US$8 billion.

READ MORE: JD.com's Richard Liu turned early disaster into future success