Power players: 5 of the richest and most influential women in China’s technology circles

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 March, 2016, 2:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2016, 2:25pm

Of the 73 billionaire self-made women in the world reported last year, 49 or two-thirds came from China, according to a Hurun Research Institute report released in October.

And a number made their fortune in China’s technology circles with some of the most inspiring stories in the world of business today.

While gender inequality remains an issue in modern-day China, the situation is changing quickly and Chairman Mao Zedong’s famous proclamation that women “hold up half the sky” is becoming more of a reality in various industries and professions.

According to a McKinsey report on the economic potential of advancing female equality last year, China’s China’s Gender Parity Score is 0.61 - with 1.00 representing gender parity. This compares to 0.74 for top-performing region North America and Oceana.

But as China celebrated International Women’s Day with the rest of the world yesterday (the theme was: Pledge for Parity), some of its most successful female businesswomen are doing just that: holding up half the sky, and seeking out new horizons.

In China’s exploding technology scene, scores of female power players are pulling the strings even if they aren’t yet hogging the spotlight like their top male counterparts - Alibaba Group founder and executive chairman Jack Ma Yun (net worth: 145 billion yuan, or US$22.25 billion), Tencent founder, president and CEO “Pony” Ma Huateng (net worth: 120 billion yuan), and Baidu founder Robin Li Yanhong (net worth: 85 billion yuan), to name a few.

The following list, while far from exhaustive, shines a light on five of the most influential and powerful Chinese women doing business in the world of technology today. They are either top executives at domestic technology giants or women who have built their empires from scratch.

Zhou Qunfei, 46

Founder and chairwoman of Lens Technology

Net worth: 50 billion yuan (US$7.7 billion)

“Touchscreen Queen” Zhou founded Lens Technology in 2003 then developed the start-up into the touchscreen sector’s dominant player, supplying products made by leading electronics giants including Apple, Samsung and Huawei.

Last April, she was named China’s richest woman with a personal fortune valued at US$10 billion. When the Apple Watch came out later that month, her firm’s glass and sapphire crystal graced the faces of Apple’s 20 watch models. The 46-year-old now commands a workforce in excess of 60,000.

Yet her rags-to-riches tale ranks as one of the most inspirational stories in China today, and certainly one that many a migrant worker with grand ambitions is well aware of.

She was born in a poor village in southwestern Hunan province. Her mother committed suicide when she was five years old, allegedly because of the family’s impoverished circumstances.

Zhou moved to Shenzhen in the early 1980s with the rest of her family and started working at a factory making glass for cell phone screens. She learned accounting in her spare time, got her driving licence (still uncommon at the time in China) and was soon promoted up the ranks.

In 1993, she quit to start her own company. Now Lens Technology is a world-leading provider of touchscreen glass and other materials for electronic devices Thanks to the soaring global demand of smartphones, she has made an almost unparalleled fortune in China in recent years.

Liu Qing, 38

President of Didi Chuxing Technology (commonly known as Didi Kuaidi)

Net worth: unknown

Liu Qing runs the leading car-hailing company in China. With a more than 70 per cent share of the domestic market, this makes her one of the country’s most successful businesswomen.

Her father is Lenovo founder Liu Chuanzhi, a household name in China. But Liu Qing did not choose to go directly into the family business. Rather, she went to study computer science at Harvard after gaining her graduate degree in the same discipline at Peking University, after which she embarked on a 12-year career at investment bank Goldman Sachs, where she last served as a managing director.

Liu joined Didi Kuaidi in 2014 as its chief operating officer. Founder and chief executive Cheng Wei promoted her to company president in February 2015.

Seven months after her appointment, Liu broke the news that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had recently undergone surgery to get a tumour removed. She took four months off to recover and returned to work in January.

“No matter how many obstacles are in our way, we still need to be young and be passionate,” she said in a speech to her staff in January.

Wang Laichun, 49

Founder and chairwoman of Luxshare Precision Industry

Net worth: 12 billion yuan (US$1.84 billion)

Wang Laichun is among the first generation of China’s so-called “factory girls”. She used to work on an assembly line at a factory in Shenzhen belonging to Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn Technology, which manufactures products including the iPhone, Kindle and Playstation 4.

Starting from 1988, Wang spent roughly a decade there and rose to the rank of production supervisor before moving on to start her own business manufacturing cables and power cords.

Her previous employer ended up becoming one of her biggest clients, and she admits to having inherited Foxconn’s strict management style.

Luxshare Precision Industry is now principally engaged in the research, development, production and distribution of computer connectors and other connectors. It also provides cable assemblies, test fixtures, antennas, power cords and others.

“Chance only favours the prepared,” she told a Shenzhen newspaper in 2010. “That is the one truth that struck me the most over the last 20 years.”

Dong Mingzhu, 61

President of Gree Electric

Net worth: unknown

In a land where everyone of merit quickly earns a nickname, Dong is known as the “Queen of Air Conditioners”. Forbes ranked her the fourth in its “Asia’s 50 Power Businesswomen” list for 2015.

She joined Gree Electric in 1990 and took over as president in 2012.

Since 2005, the company has ranked as the world’s top vendor of air conditioners for households, but it is now suffering from slowing demand.

Dong has said she is trying to reposition the company to better suit the current internet age. Her latest moves include developing the company’s own brand of smartphones and production robots, as well as purchasing an electric car maker.

Dong is also a bestselling author. Her 2006 autobiography Regretless Pursuit was adapted into a TV drama that aired on China Central Television.

Xu Xin, 49

Founder and managing partner of Capital Today

Net worth: unknown

Xu is a veteran investor in the technology sector who invested in a series of blue-chip companies at a very early stage.

Her early successes include NetEase, a leading Chinese portal website. Xu invested US$5 million to buy shares in the company back in 1999. When she sold them in 2004, she netted a nine-fold windfall. Her latest major success was with JD.com, China’s No.2 e-commerce company after Alibaba Group. Her US$18 million investment in JD is now worth more than US$2.7 billion.