A closer look at three of Beijing’s biggest tech companies
When you think about the engine of China’s recent success, the mind might naturally drift to the south’s Pearl River Delta megalopolis, and its jewels of Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. China’s capital is no slouch in economic power, however, and is home to some of China’s (and consequently the world’s) largest companies. Here, Business Chief takes a look at three of Beijing’s heavyweights.
Anyone under a certain age will be familiar with ByteDance, albeit indirectly, thanks to its TikTok social media app. Born out of its Douyin product for the Chinese market, both Douyin and TikTok allows users to create short looping videos, with the format being ripe for producing viral hits. The app was combined with video lip-syncing app Musical.ly after an acquisition in 2017, and is in many ways a successor to the now defunct Twitter-owned Vine application, which pioneered the format.
Transportation company DiDi was founded by an alumnus of Hangzhou-based ecommerce giant Alibaba, Cheng Wei. Originally backed by Tencent, in 2015 it merged with its biggest, Alibaba-backed, rival, Kuaidi. Such was its dominance of the Chinese market that it bought out Uber’s Chinese business. Like Uber, it has since expanded beyond its original ride-hailing remit, with the company branching out into areas such as robotaxis, where it is planning to test its fleet of autonomous vehicles on the streets of Shanghai imminently.
JD.com operates one of the biggest business to consumer ecommerce sites, alongside the Alibaba-owned Tmall. Alibaba’s erstwhile rival Tencent is a big backer of the site, as is American retail corporation Walmart. Although founded in 1998, it took until 2004 for the company to first open its website. While Singles’ Day drives huge profits for Alibaba, JD pioneered its own celebration which takes place on 18 June, the “618 Anniversary Sale”. Its success prompted Alibaba, as well as rival Pinduoduo, to also adopt the holiday.
Business Chief Legend: Ho Ching, CEO of Temasek
Ask Singaporeans who Ho Ching is, and the majority will answer the ‘wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’. And that’s certainly true. However, she’s also the CEO of Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, and one of the world’s largest investment companies.
Well, she is until October 1, 2021, as she recently announced she would be retiring following 16 years as CEO of the investment giant.
Since taking the reins in 2004, two years after joining Temasek as Executive Director, Ho has gradually transformed what was an investment firm wholly owned by Singapore’s Government into an active investor worldwide, splashing out on sectors like life sciences and tech, expanding its physical footprint with 11 offices worldwide (from London to Mumbai to San Francisco) and delivering growth of US$120 billion between 2010-2020.
Described by Temasek chairman Lim Boon Heng as having taken “bold steps to open new pathways in finding the character of the organisations”, Ho is credited with building Temasek’s international portfolio, with China recently surpassing Singapore for the first time.
As global a footprint as Ho may have however, she has her feet firmly planted on Singapore soil and is committed to this tiny city-state where she was not only educated (excluding a year at Stanford) but has remained throughout her long and illustrious career – first as an engineer at the Ministry of Defence in 1976, where she met her husband, and most notably as CEO of Singapore Technologies, where she spent a decade, and where she is credited with repositioning and growing the group into the largest listed defence engineering company in Asia.
It’s little wonder Ho has featured on Forbes’ annual World’s Most Powerful Women list for the past 16 years, in 2007 as the third most powerful woman in business outside the US, and in 2020 at #30 worldwide.
But it’s not all business. Ho has a strong track record in Singapore public service, serving as chairman of the Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research and as deputy chairman of the Economic Development Board; and is a committed philanthropist with a focus on learning difficulties and healthcare.
As the pandemic kicked off, she not only led active investments in technology and life sciences, with German COVID-19 vaccine developer BioNTech among the most recent additions to Temasek’s portfolio, but through the Temasek Foundation – the firm’s philanthropic arm which supports vulnerable groups close to Ho’s heart, handed out hand sanitiser and face masks.
So, you would be forgiven for thinking that at age 68, Ho might simply relax. But in March 2021, just as she announced her retirement from Temasek, Ho joined the Board of Directors of Wellcome Leap, a US-based non-profit organisation that’s dedicated to accelerating innovations in global health. Not ready to put her firmly grounded feet up yet it seems.