This post was contributed by Jeremy Brand Yuan and was originally published at en.techorange.com
Forbes published its list of the 400 richest Chinese last week, providing a glimpse into the industries that have been the most lucrative in China. By and large, the list is populated with businessmen making their money bringing low-tech services and products to a developing China. However, there is a subset of China’s richest whose internet and software solutions have made big money in an increasingly modernized China. TechOrange looks at these tech moguls that have broken into China’s upper echelon.
#2 ($9.2 billion) Robin (Yanhong) Li – Baidu
It’s been a good year for Robin Li. In the past year, he saw his wealth increase $2 billion as the CEO of China’s king of search, Baidu. 42 year old Robin Li co-founded Baidu and rode its rise to the top to make him China’s second richest individual and one of China’s most respected managers and business leaders. Li was educated in China, but acquired his Masters in computer science in the US at SUNY Buffalo. He moved to Silicon Valley to work as an engineer and received a US patent in 1996 for his RankDex search/hyperlink index algorithm that would serve as the basis for Baidu. Baidu quickly grew into the #1 search engine in China, leaving Google in the dust to acquire a 70% share of the Chinese search market. The company’s listing on NASDAQ in 2005 made an instant billionaire of the Baidu co-founder, who continues to serve as CEO today.
#13 ($4.3 billion) Ma Huateng – Tencent Inc.
Huateng, more commonly known as Pony, co-founded Tencent in 1998. He oversaw the development of the QQ real-time messenger service that served as the foundation for the Tencent empire. Ma has been expert at leveraging that user base, estimated today to be over 800 million users, to develop its other social services, internet portals, and online games. He has layered on value-added service one after another to develop the Tencent brand into a household name and major revenue generator. He developed a virtual currency called the QQ coin that ties in with many Tencent products and even the company mascot, a penguin, is licensed for toys and sporting goods. Though his managerial expertise is evident, the reclusive Pony Ma is a mystery to most. The Tencent CEO rarely grants interviews and shies away from the public spotlight.
#25 (2.76 billion) (William) Ding Lei – NetEase
Though NetEase is known today primarily for its online gaming, it did not have such colorful beginnings when William Ding founded the company in 1997. At the time, NetEase focused on internet applications, bringing to China its first free dual-language email system. Though he currently serves as the company CEO, the versatile Ding has flip-flopped positions several times, trading his CEO title for that of co-CTO and COO for periods of time throughout the company’s history. He is known for his quirky intelligence and business acumen, but has suffered considerable lows in his time at NetEast. When the company listed on NASDAQ, it was accused of falsifying financial information and saw its stock sink to a low of $.95 per share. Within a few years, it would rise shoot up to $70 per share, making him China’s richest man in 2004.
#39 (1.9 billion) Jack Ma – Alibaba
Jack Ma lacks the strict pedigree that might be expected from one of China’s most outspoken and successful CEOs. In fact, he doesn’t even come from a tech background, graduating from teacher’s college with a certification to teach English. Not willing to be pigeonholed, Jack Ma helped write the book on the Chinese internet by founding China Pages in 1995, one of China’s first internet businesses. It’s a book he continues to help edit as he leads Alibaba, the e-commerce platform he founded in 1999, to become one of China’s behemoth internet companies. He’s unusual in that his skill lies in his vision more than his technical ability, and humbly claims that he knows nothing about technology. For someone who knows nothing about technology, he’s fared pretty well in developing Alibaba’s retail/auction/search engine/computing services into a force that is not only revolutionizing the online marketplace, but is as hard to define as the man behind the wheel. He is charismatic and outspoken and his notoriously fast speech beholds the intelligence of the man who is single handedly changing the way China will do business in the 21st century.
#46 ($1.72 billion) Zhang Zhidong – Tencent
Who is Tony Zhang? It seems like the Tencent executives like to keep a low-profile. The Tencent CTO co-founded the company with Pony Ma, but has a relatively small internet/media footprint for the billionaire executive of one of China’s largest social networks. The largest window into his background is from his company profile, but does not reveal much:
Tony oversees the development of the Company’s proprietary technologies, including the basic IM platform and massive-scale online application systems… Prior to that, he worked at Li Ming Network Group focusing on research and development of software and network application systems. Tony received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science from Shenzhen University in 1993 and a Master of Science Degree in Computer Application and System Structure from South China University of Technology in 1996. Tony has more than 15 years of experience in the telecommunications and Internet industries.
The five richest tech moguls in China are from a familiar group of top-tier companies in the Chinese internet space, and all are members of China’s billionaire club. Later in the week, we’ll take a look at some of the other Chinese tech tycoons that made the list. If you can’t wait until then, have a peek at the China 400 for yourself.