The rise of China has been in the news for years now and the country’s economy, an agrarian basket case until just decades ago, will overtake America’s in size any minute now. But the entrepreneurs leading its economic rebirth are not as well known here in blighty as the likes of Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.
You’re probably familiar with Jack Ma, the multi-billionaire founder of the ecommerce giant Alibaba. And Wang Jianlin, the man behind the big Dalian Wanda conglomerate, has made plenty of headlines as he hoovers up British businesses and properties. But these are some of the less familiar faces who are making a killing and will have a hand in shaping the future of business.
1. Lei Jun - Xiaomi
Accusations that Lei’s (pictured) mobile phone business is a copycat of Apple are not unreasonable – just look at the design of Xiaomi’s stores, for instance. But the entrepreneur has rightly won plaudits for the company’s business model, which involves selling high quality handsets on the cheap to cash in on selling services and crowdsourcing the design of its next models. He must be doing something right – last Xiaomi was valued at $46bn (£35bn), making it the world's most valuable start-up at the time. Recent sales figures have been disappointing but don’t be too surprised to see Xiaomi competing with Apple and Samsung in the UK some time soon.
2. Pony Ma - Tencent
Ma Huateng, who goes by ‘Pony’ in the west (a translation of his family name), launched the social media and entertainment company Tencent in 1998. It found early success with the chat app QQ and now holds stakes in dozens of internet businesses doing everything from online payments to gaming. Its WeChat app has more than 1 billion registered users, more than 70 million of them outside China. Watch out, WhatsApp. In April Ma announced plans to give more than $2bn to charity.
3. Liu Qiangdong – JD.com
Jack Ma’s Alibaba is often compared to Amazon, but it’s JD.com that actually controls the biggest market share of B2C ecommerce in China. Liu started the business as a chain of computer hardware stores in the nineties. After the 2003 SARS outbreak emptied the country’s shopping centres he decided to explore the power of the internet, and the rest is history. Last year the total value of goods sold through its website reached a whopping $71bn and it notched up net revenues of $28bn.
4. Wang Jingbo – Noah Wealth Management
Jingbo is a leading light of China’s nascent financial services industry. Given all the cash that China’s newly minted middle class has been raking in, it’s not hard to imagine asset management is a good game to get into. Her company Noah Wealth Management, which is backed by Silicon Valley’s Sequoia Capitla, has attracted more than $18bn of assets from 50,000 clients.
5. Zhang Lue – Broad Group
Hunan-based Zhang made his fortune in air conditioning but his ambitions go way beyond that. He’s keen to make a name for himself as an eco-entrepreneur, with plans to build the world’s ‘tallest, greenest’ skyscraper. His company developed a lightning-quick technique for putting up skyscrapers using modular materials, which allowed it to build a smaller 57-storey tower in just 19 days. His dream of going higher has so far been scuppered by red tape and environmental concerns but Broad Group has insisted it will ‘definitely’ be built one day.
Image credit: Xiaomi