It takes a brave person to walk away from a leadership role in one of the world’s biggest tech companies – even more so, when they are trailblazing female leadership.
But that’s exactly what Chinese national Diane Wang did at the dawn of the new millennium.
Once the youngest director at Microsoft China, Wang was working at Cisco China in 1999 as the company’s most senior female leader when she made the ‘brave new world’ decision to chuck in the corporate towel and take the entrepreneurial highway.
This was the height of the dot-com boom and the year Alibaba set in motion its online shopping platform – and like Jack Ma, Diane spotted the potential in ecommerce and wanted in on the action.
Fast forward 24 years and Diane has founded and led two highly successful ecommerce companies – China’s first B2C trading platform, Joyo.com, which she built into the largest B2C marketplace in the country, and was later acquired by Amazon; and DHgate – one of China’s leading ecommerce companies, which she continues to lead today.
In the process, she has helped millions of founders launch their own tech startups, sat on multiple boards, and earned dozens of honorary awards, including recognition among Forbes’ most powerful women and China’s top 10 influential leaders in IT.
First generation of ecommerce entrepreneurs in China
While the decision to leave senior leadership in big tech wasn’t an easy one – for Diane, it was inevitable given her mission: to drive the digital inclusion agenda for entrepreneurs in China and empower women with the tools to succeed.
“When I left Cisco to start my entrepreneurial journey, I knew it would be a difficult path, especially as I was among the first generation of ecommerce entrepreneurs in China – but I was hopeful,” Diane tells Business Chief from DHgate HQ in Beijing.
During her six-year big tech tenure at Microsoft and Cisco, Diane witnessed and contributed to the then nascent but soon-to-explode ecommerce environment – which was already visibly changing the lives of people throughout China.
“Ecommerce was democratising the landscape for entrepreneurs, allowing people who had never had the opportunity to start businesses due to structural reasons begin to have an equal choice and chance.
“I knew I had to be part of this, to expand this space and have an impact,” says Diane, who set up her first business Jojo.com during the birth of the ecommerce boom – growing the startup to such success, it was acquired by Amazon five years later.
This only fuelled the entrepreneurial fire in Diane’s belly, and having seen first-hand the impact ecommerce could have on people’s lives, she founded her second ecommerce startup, DHgate, in 2004 – with the mission to make global trade accessible by empowering everyone through digitalisation.
Growing a world-leading ecommerce company
Leveraging her more than 30 years of business and digital experience, Diane has built DHgate into the world’s leading cross-border B2B ecommerce infrastructure for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSME) – covering B2B commerce, retail, social commerce, logistics, and payments networks.
Within the first three years, the company secured 1 million registered buyers and ranked seventh in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 for APAC.
Two decades of development later and DHgate has the largest market share in the US and second largest worldwide, with some 59.6 million global buyers from 225 countries, 2.54 million Chinese sellers and 34 million product listings. With a 1,000-strong workforce and offices worldwide, from Beijing to Paris to California, DHgate works with more than 100 logistics service providers, provides over 100 logistics routes and has 10 overseas warehouses.
Little wonder then that the company continues to secure global accolades, recognised in 2023 alone by The Stevie Awards for being at the frontline of global trade and the internet industry, and ranked among the HURUN Chinese industrial IoT top 30.
Such success has propelled Diane to global trading heights. She was named a member of the High-level Advisory Council of the World Internet Conference in 2018 and is the sole representative from China to join the World Trade Organisation Business Advisory Group.
Driving digital inclusion
The critical focus for DHgate is empowering women and societies through digital inclusion – something Diane is especially passionate about. “Our future is digital, so I feel it is imperative to equip everyone with the resources required to move with the times.”
Spotting an opportunity to drive digital inclusion further, in 2020, Diane launched a new business under the DHgate Group umbrella – social commerce platform MyyShop.
“We began to see social media as a vital channel for entrepreneurs and founded MyyShop with a mission and passion for uplifting the young and underserved communities, especially women, students, stay-at-home mothers, the unemployed, or simply those who don’t want a conventional full-time job.”
Powered by big data, AI, and cloud computing, the platform aims to empower different types of creators – from nano to meta-influencers – to turn their social media influence and passion for content creation into thriving online businesses.
MyyShop has grown quickly to 60,000 creators, US$500 million in gross merchandise value and more than 100,000 collaborators in 2022 alone.
“Social media and by extension, social commerce, is opening up an entirely new channel for entrepreneurs to be successful and practical digital skills and tools are key to cultivating this next generation of entrepreneurs.”
This is especially true for women – who still face a very high barrier when it comes to gaining the knowledge and skills needed to start and succeed as an entrepreneur, says Diane.
Empowering female entrepreneurs
Recent research from the APEC Business Advisory Council found that 63% of women from MSMEs reported they felt they had a lack of professional skills and more than 50% needed training in digital tools.
Attracting funding as a female entrepreneur is equally challenging, given that a staggering 90% of VC decision-makers are men, who in turn invest 86% of their capital in male leaders.
“My unchanged belief is that women should help women,” says Diane – and as a first-generation female entrepreneur in China in the internet era, that is exactly what she is doing.
As well as empowering female entrepreneurs via her digital platforms, she is cultivating female leadership culture within the company.
“I knew I wanted to build a company culture that values cultivating female leadership from the ground up. At DHgate, we’ve been able to not only build a global company, but to maintain a supportive environment for employees and stay true to our mission of empowering women and underserved communities with entrepreneurship.”
Diane has taken her passion for supporting women beyond the four walls of her business and works closely with international organisations and associated working groups to support female economic participation and promote gender equality and inclusion.
She has taken on leadership advisory roles at various international organisations, including the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), Business 20 (B20), and BRICS Women’s Business Alliance with an aim to “connect the dots across different organisations, coordinate efforts, maximise resources, and more importantly increase visibility to get women’s voices heard”.
“I want to make sure that female entrepreneurs are given every chance to pursue their business ambitions. This means tearing down barriers that have traditionally slowed or halted progress, while introducing new pathways for success.”
Diane launched a digital capacity building programme in 2014, and has trained more than 100,000 MSMEs from more than 50 countries; and in 2016, she founded APEC Women Connect (AWC), a digital entrepreneurship community which convenes female entrepreneurs, policymakers and business leaders for networking, e-learning and mentorship.
Not one to stand still, Diane is now building a new community, providing mentorship, support and recognition for young female entrepreneurs in the digital sector.
“I believe it is critical that we keep improving, updating and expanding these types of programmes to help more women grow their businesses more quickly and effectively.
“It is a long road to achieving gender equality and empowerment in entrepreneurship, but we have to keep pushing.”
Diane Wang on leadership
“Successful leadership comes down to cultivating a positive culture. If you only care about profitable success, then you will attract only people who think the same way. But if you take a more nuanced approach to what success or failure means, and recognise that supporting people is just as important, then you will attract those with the same values – and that will make all the difference.
I value employee wellbeing and foster an environment that allows them to support each other. I have developed a concept called ‘Everyone is a dragon’, which signifies that every individual possesses the potential for greatness. As a leader, I consider it my responsibility to unlock and harness the potential and energy within each individual. This plays a vital role in everyone’s self-realisation and personal growth.”
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