Global business has faced unprecedented challenges over the past 12 months, particularly in 2020. The scale of the change that comes from responding to these obstacles will accelerate innovation in some companies, while others will falter.
One thing is clear – successful organisations rely on the vision and strategy of exceptional people to drive transformation.
Business Insider’s 100 People Transforming Business series, now in its second year, spotlights visionaries who are driving innovative changes in their own companies that resonate across their industry.
The series spans 10 verticals, and showcases leaders from three global regions – North America, Asia, and Europe.
Each list of 100 comprises a diverse array of influential people, including executives from global companies, startup founders, product and technology strategists, and industry activists.
1. Melissa Yang, Founder, Tujia
When Melissa Yang cofounded Tujia, in 2011, her business inspiration was undeniable. Airbnb had been established three years earlier and had revolutionised the online marketplace for vacation rentals. But the company would not enter China until 2016.
Tujia was ready to step in. Over the past nine years the company has become the dominant player in the market with an estimated 60% share. Even today Airbnb has only a fraction of Tujia’s business in the county.
But while Airbnb may have been an inspiration for Tujia, Yang is adamant that the business model is entirely different because of the huge differences between travellers in China and the US.
In the beginning, Tujia curated and managed all its properties, guaranteeing the consistent service quality Chinese tourists were looking for. Only later, once the platform had built trust and credibility, were privately owned and run rentals added.
For future growth, Yang is not only targeting the domestic market. Tujia says it plans to triple bookings for outbound travellers on the website over the next three years. The company has said it will expand its listings in Japan, South Korea, and Thailand.
“We all have curiosity about the world,” Yang tells Business Insider. “By experiencing different places and cultures, traveling helps us get connected with more empathy and creativity. We end up enjoying more freedom physically and spiritually, especially in the current isolated circumstance.”
2. Akiko Naka, Founder and CEO, Wantedly
As far as recruitment sites go, Tokyo-based Wantedly has an unusual mission but one that resonates with younger job seekers: to create a world where work meets passion.
Founded by Akiko Naka, in 2010, Wantedly connects companies and prospective employees based on their passions and interests, rather than pay or benefits.
Job postings on the site don’t include salary details, and they don’t ask candidates to send in their résumés. Instead, the site enables would-be employees to casually drop by the offices of the companies they want to work for and meet the team.
“We want to change the way job seeking is done,” Naka tells Business Insider. “That more than just salary and benefits, it is equally important to align both companies and job-seekers in values, mission, and purpose.”
It’s a novel concept that’s proved successful. Wantedly has over 30,000 companies using the platform, including Sony, Panasonic, and Uber, and has 1.2 million active users in Japan. Last year the company made its first international expansions, into Singapore and Hong Kong.
“We wanted to make work more purpose-oriented in Japan, and in the process found that other countries like Singapore and Hong Kong face the same challenges to a certain degree,” Naka adds.
3. Edward Cheng, Vice President, Tencent
Tencent’s tech tentacles stretch into numerous consumer touchpoints, including messaging, commerce, video, music, and live streaming. But for Edward Cheng, there is a new area of growth for the company: the integration of technology and culture.
Cheng has been responsible for the development of a number of new culture-related products that integrate with the broader Tencent ecosystem.
In February the company partnered with the Chinese Mogao Grottoes tourist destination in western China’s Gansu Province to initiate a mini program on WeChat. Online visits topped 12 million in the first two months, five times that of the entire average annual tourist arrivals at Mogao.
Chen has also collaborated recently with the Palace Museum, housed inside Beijing’s Forbidden City. The program aims to adopt an innovative approach to digitizing the former Imperial Palaces, leveraging Tencent’s strength in areas such as cloud computing, big data and artificial intelligence.
“Many profound changes are taking place in the field of cultural products due to technology development,” Cheng tells Business Insider. “Going online from offline, the relationships among cultural institutions, designers, producers, and consumers are being redefined, and those changes will give birth to many new business possibilities.”
4. Ian Watson, CEO, Cellcard
Ian Watson’s challenge when joining Cambodia’s Cellcard, in 2012, was to develop the telco in a country that was playing catch-up to many of the more developed nations in the region, particularly in 4G.
Six years and $300 million worth of investment later, Cellcard had 90% of the country covered by its 4G LTE network. That target reached, Watson’s eyes have switched to 5G.
This year, Cellcard became the first operator in Cambodia to conduct 5G trials. It installed the first 5G sites in Phnom Penh, which were then used to deliver the Kingdom’s first use case, a telemedicine service to help coordinate the COVID-19 response.
Watson’s mission goes beyond building networks. He is also a believer in the humanitarian impact of digitization, especially in Cambodia’s rural areas. This year the company launched an e-learning platform in partnership with government ministries, with Cellcard providing free data access to the app for teachers and students nationwide between select hours.
“Digital empowerment will change people’s lives for the better by advancing education, health, agriculture, and farming, and deliver access to the world for all Cambodians,” Watson tells Business Insider.
5. Jane Jie Sun, CEO, Trip.com
Jane Jie Sun leads not only the largest online travel agency in China but one of the largest travel service providers in the world.
The group consists of a number of travel brands, with Trip.com and Skyscanner being the most recognizable. The company originated out of Chinese startup Ctrip, which acquired the Palo Alto-based Trip.com in 2017 and merged its businesses under the new domain.
Sun became CEO in 2016, after 11 years with the company. She is one of just a few female tech CEOs in China and is committed to address the gender imbalance in business leadership. As many as half of Ctrip’s employees are now female, while females make up one third of executives in high-level positions, an uncommon ratio among tech companies.
Last year Sun became a main supporter of the Women in Health LEAD Fellowship at Harvard University, which aims to empower more women to become leaders in the health industry.
And while COVID-19 is disrupting the travel sector like never before, Sun has confidence in long-term resilience. “The current trends we’ve observed in the China market are encouraging, and we are confident that coupled with the guarantees, measures and innovations we’ve introduced, we’ll continue to see promising growth and new heights for the industry in the near future,” she tells Business Insider.
6. Kelly Zhang, CEO, China, Bytedance (Tik Tok)
Tik Tok has been the most talked-about app of the past year. What’s less discussed is the huge success of its parent company, ByteDance, which by January owned six of the top 10 apps in the China iOS App Store.
ByteDance in China is headed by Kelly Zhang, who assumed the position of CEO in March, after heading up Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.
Zhang joined ByteDance in 2014 after the company acquired a photo-sharing app she had cofounded. She was originally in charge of ByteDance’s earliest product, Neihan Duanzi, a video- and meme-sharing app eventually shut down by authorities in 2018 alleging “inappropriate content.”
By January of this year she’d grown Douyin to 400 million active users, up 150 million from a year before. In her new role she’ll be responsible for ByteDance’s products in the domestic market, leading product management and operations, marketing, and partnerships.
Alongside Douyin, her brand portfolio includes Toutiao, which translates as “headlines,” a popular China-based news-recommendation engine, and Xigua Video (“Watermelon Video”), a platform for longer-form video content.
7. Han Seong-sook, CEO, Naver
When Han Seong-sook was promoted from vice president to CEO at the Korean search company Naver in 2017, it was a transformational hire.
She was the company’s first CEO, which carries weight given that just 2.6% of CEOs in the country at that time were female. (Today that number is only 5%.)
With a background in tech journalism and a successful startup under her belt, she was also the first non-engineer to lead the country’s largest tech conglomerate, a company she originally joined in 2007.
Under Han’s watch, Naver has gone from strength to strength, and Naver’s stock price has almost doubled — boosted by a strong performance during the pandemic.
Han has continued the company’s innovation efforts beyond its core search business. Naver has interests in multiple verticals, including its online-payments platform Naver Pay and its popular online comic Naver Webtoon.
Key to Han’s plans will be the evolution of Naver’s portfolio, with e-commerce platform Smart Store high on the list. Smart Store is home to 350,000 small vendors, and from April to June recorded its highest-ever quarterly sales.
8. Ma Baoli, Founder and CEO, BlueCity
Ma Baoling made some history this year after his company, BlueCity, best known for its dating app Blued, became the world’s first LBGTQ+-focused social network to become a publicly listed company.
Ma, then a police officer, quit his job to set up Blued in 2011. He’d previously founded one of China’s first and most influential LBGTQ+ online forums Danlang as a solution to what he says were his frustrations at being a gay man in China.
Nine years on and Blued has 49 million registered users around the world. Almost 50% of its active users are outside China, and the app is the largest LBGTQ+ community in India, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Ma says Blued stands out from its rivals by offering services beyond dating and live streaming services. In 2017 it launched Bluedbaby, which provides surrogacy support and advice. Last year Ma rolled out HeHealth, which offers access to a range of HIV-related medication and consulting services.
Ma, who once said he felt like he was the only gay man in China, says he is on a personal mission to promote social equality for and wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community.
“BlueCity can empower more people and give them greater courage to be their true selves,” he tells Business Insider.
9. Manu Kumar Jain, Managing Director, Xiaomi India
When relations between India and China deteriorated earlier this year, Chinese-owned handset brand Xiaomi responded to a potential consumer boycott by launching its own “Made in India” campaign. Managing director Manu Jumar Jain joined in, posting on Twitter, “We are more Indian than anyone else.”
Jain pointed to the achievements the brand had made after just six years of operations in India: all phones made in India, an Indian R&D center, an all-Indian leadership team managing 50,000 employees.
What Jain didn’t mention was how Xiaomi has become the No. 1 smartphone brand in India in such a short time.
Jain joined Xiaomi India at the beginning of its India journey in 2014. A former consultant at McKinsey and founder at a tech startup, he’s navigated the brand to success in a challenging market.
The company now has just over 31% share of the handset market, well ahead of rivals such as Vivo and Samsung. Other products, such as its smart TV and the recently launched Mi Notebook, are also the fastest-selling products in their respective categories.
10. Min-Liang Tan, CEO, Razer
Min-Liang Tan’s early career choice was set between two extremes. On the one hand, he was a practicing lawyer in his native Singapore. He was also a passionate gamer with a knack for product development.
Eventually, the law lost out and, in 2005, Tan cofounded computer hardware giant Razer.
Tan’s hardware story began a decade earlier, in 1995, when he and future cofounder Robert Krakoff designed what was said to be the world’s first gaming mouse, the Razer Boomslang.
Today, Tan leads one of the world’s largest and most innovative hardware companies, producing, among other things, keyboards, monitors, headsets, and, of course, mouse devices. Razer is proudly grassroots and its products inspire cultlike adoration from fans.
“Our single mantra — ‘for gamers by gamers’ — has guided us to build a gamer-centric ecosystem for all parts of gamers’ lives,” Tan tells Business Insider. “The global pandemic has cemented gaming and esports as key entertainment options, and Razer continues to be at the center of this trend.”
Tan sees the next frontier for Razer lying in virtual reality. He is a founding member of the Open Source Virtual Reality platform, and earlier this year he announced a $5 million fund to support developers creating content that works across all VR platforms.
1. Annette Wallgren, Program Management Officer of Gender and Climate Change, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, UN Environment Program
For Annette Wallgren, shifting South and Southeast Asia’s energy dependence from fossil fuels and to renewable energy is not just about tackling climate change at the macro level – it is also a way to change the lives of many millions of women In the region.
As part of her role at the UN Environmental Program, Bangkok-based Wallgren encourages governments to redirect fossil-fuel subsidies into renewables, in particular distributed renewable energy investments managed and used by women.
“Large-scale renewable energy sources are an obvious choice for climate investments,” Wallgren told Business Insider. “But in investing in distributed renewable energy there is an opportunity to bring reliable energy to the last-mile user in a way that large-scale sources cannot.”
Projects are already affecting women in the region. In Vietnam, for example, UNEP worked with a female entrepreneur who started a biogas-digester business that uses waste from pigs and converts into combustible methane gas that can be used by local households for cooking and other needs.
“When women entrepreneurs can use renewable energy technologies to augment their incomes, they are better off and their communities become more resilient to climate change and disasters,” Wallgren says.
2. Somruedee Chaimongkol, CEO, Banpu
It may seem odd that an executive often dubbed “Asia’s first lady of coal” is attempting to establish clean-energy credentials, but this is exactly what is happening in the case of Somruedee Chaimongkol. Banpu, a Thailand-based energy company, is known primarily as the country’s largest coal producer.
Since her appointment in 2005, she has been leading the company on its “Greener and Cleaner” strategy to drive clean and renewable energy growth. Progress has been slow, and Banpu continues to receive criticism for pollution and environmental damage at home and in a number of its overseas operations, such as Indonesia and Australia.
Nevertheless, Somruedee is working to balance the company’s core business with more sustainable options.
At the start of this year the company announced an investment budget of $93 million, 90% of which would be committed to expansion of its natural gas and renewable energy businesses. Also this year, Banpu invested almost $73 million in Singapore-based renewable energy-solutions provider Sunseap.
“Banpu has been transforming into a leading integrated energy solutions company in Asia-Pacific by growing our business portfolio and ecosystem under Greener and Smarter strategy,” Somruedee tells Business Insider. “Our utmost aim is to ensure energy sustainability and create additional values to all our stakeholders.”
3. Shin Hak-Cheol, CEO and Vice-chairperson, LG Chem
When Tesla’s first China-made Model 3s rolled out of its Shanghai plant in January of this year, it was LG Chem, Korea’s largest chemical firm and the world’s largest producer of lithium ion batteries, that helped power the vehicles.
The Tesla collaboration has been a feather in the cap for CEO Shin Hak-Cheol and his plans to transform the company’s energy solutions business.
Shin joined the company as CEO in 2018, after nearly a decade working for 3M. His hire was the first time in LG Chem’s 70-year history that an outsider had been appointed to the CEO position.
LG Chem will be leaning on Shin’s experience and global exposure to guide the company in an increasingly competitive global battery production market, with a growing challenge from a number of mostly Chinese, Japanese, and Korean companies.
Success rests in part on building and maintaining partnerships with electric vehicle manufacturers such as Tesla. As Tesla expands its operations both in China and Asia, LG Chem is primed to remain a preferred supplier.
“LG Chem is a $30 billion diversified global company,” Shin tells Business Insider. “We plan to transform the company to a global powerhouse with a central focus on sustainable technology solutions to create value for customers and shareholders while contributing to the society at large.”
4. Elizabeth Gaines, CEO, Fortescue Metals
Ever since Elizabeth Gaines took on the CEO role at Australian iron-ore producer Fortescue Metals, in 2018, the company has been on an upward trajectory.
In her first financial year in charge, the company’s revenues jumped 45% and profits grew by 263% to a record $3.2 billion.
While a part of this growth could be attributed to spikes in global iron-ore prices, it shouldn’t take away from Gaines’ contributions.
She has been busy innovating at the operational level. Among a number of important new initiatives has been the scaling up of Fortescue’s autonomous-truck fleet, which the company said has delivered a 30% improvement in productivity.
Gaines is also behind Fortescue’s ambition to become a major hydrogen energy exporter. This year, the company entered a consortium with industry giants Anglo American, BHP, and Hatch to accelerate the production of renewable hydrogen, by removing obstacles to its adoption in the resources and heavy industry sectors.
Meanwhile, in April, Fortescue announced it had entered a partnership to build and operate hydrogen refuelling facilities for vehicles in Western Australia, with Gaines advocating again for hydrogen’s potential as part of the future energy mix.
“As the world moves toward a lower-carbon future, hydrogen has the potential to play a key role in the future energy mix and we want to ensure we remain at the forefront of Australia’s renewable hydrogen industry,” Gaines says.
5. Austin Bryan, Senior Director of Innovation, CLP Holdings Limited
Driving change at a 119-year-old electricity utility provider is no easy task, but Austin Bryan, who leads innovation at Hong Kong-based China Light and Power, is motivated by the challenge.
In the role since 2016, Bryan has created a culture of collaboration within the organisation, in particular developing partnerships around new ideas and applications from the startup world.
CLP has cooperated with tech partners on a number of projects, including smart solutions targeting schools, offices, and buildings, and software to evaluate the effects of solar panels on the power distribution network. Bryan has also led CLP’s direct investment in a number of tech companies and venture funds.
Bryan’s efforts are much needed as part of the transformation of CLP from a traditional utility provider to a technology-led energy company. Key will be balancing CLP’s century-old heritage and reputation with the changing needs of both customers and society at large.
“The transformation of the energy sector is exciting and it’s here now: sustainable, digital, decarbonised, decentralised,” Bryan tells Business Insider. “The tools available today in energy allow consumers, businesses, cities the ability to have control over how energy is used, how it is stored, how it’s shared and how they can act to reduce carbon intensity in their daily lives.”
6. Frank Phuan, CEO and Cofounder, Sunseap Group
Southeast Asia has grown increasingly more important for the solar-power industry. Abundant sunshine — generally cheaper than grid electricity — and the political will to tackle greenhouse and emissions are creating opportunities for companies looking to transform the region’s fossil-fuel dependency.
One such company is Sunseap, led by Frank Phuan, now the largest clean-energy-solutions provider in Singapore. Phuan founded the company as a solar-panel manufacturer in 2001, in partnership with his father, but in 2011 focused on solar energy as service.
That same year Sunseap got its first project: installing solar systems on the rooftops of 40 public-housing blocks in Singapore. The company says it has installed systems on more than 1,500 blocks so far, generating enough energy to power 42,000 four-room apartments each year.
The potential has not gone unnoticed. This year the company has secured a total of $100 million in investment from backers including Singapore’s state-investment vehicle Temasek Holdings and Thai energy company Banpu.
“Sunseap believes sustainability is not just a buzzword, but an imperative,” Phuan tells Business Insider. “Innovation is key to building sustainable communities.”
7. Reza Katal, CTO, Green Li-ion
Green Li-ion is less than a year old, but already the company is promising to revolutionize the world of battery recycling. It uses its patented technology to rejuvenate used lithium-ion batteries, and in doing so solving what the company calls an existential threat to both the precious-metals industry and the environment.
As CTO, Singapore-based Reza Katal is behind the science part of the company. With a background in chemical and environmental engineering, Katal says he has been working on the rejuvenation solution for a decade. After meeting cofounder and CEO Leon Farrant, he was able to turn his ideas into a company, and is now looking at investors to help scale the business.
Green Li-ion’s technology can recycle batteries much faster than traditional processes, using less energy and producing less waste. The company says its technology is the only one in the world capable of fully recovering the precious metals in the cathode component of batteries.
“For two decades, lithium-ion batteries have been our preferred source of portable energy, but the sad reality is that with a lifespan of only one to three years, 95% of them ending up as dangerous landfill,” Katal tells Business Insider. “Green Li-ion changes this and makes battery rejuvenation and reuse the new reality.”
8. Jemma Green, Executive Chairperson and Cofounder, Power Ledger
2020 has so far been a great year for energy trading firm Power Ledger.
In July a yearlong trial of its blockchain peer-to-peer energy trading technology in Western Australia was found to be technically feasible for real-world use, marking a huge milestone for the four-year-old company.
A few months earlier, the company said it was launching its trading platform in partnership with a number of developers in Perth. The technology will be introduced to 100 apartments over three years and allow home occupants to sell their surplus energy to other residents, incentivising the use of green energy.
These recent developments round off what has been an up and down few years for the company cofounded by Jemma Green.
Power Ledger burst on to the energy scene in a big way when it raised $34 million in an initial coin offering, which at the time was Australia’s largest ICO. Despite this, the company’s trading system failed to take off, prompting some to question whether the technology was overhyped.
The latest recognition will be a shot in the arm for Green, who argues that blockchain technology is a much-needed challenge to big electricity monopolies in Australia and beyond.
“Energy systems are changing rapidly in APAC, with a focus on growing renewable energy in a scalable way, matching generation and consumption in localised energy markets,” Green told Business Insider. “Distributed batteries providing dispatchable energy using supporting technologies like Power Ledger’s are facilitating the transition to an energy future that is resilient, low-cost and clean.”
9. Dany Qian, Vice President, Jinko Solar
Dany Qian is not only one of the most recognised faces on the renewables circuit in Asia, she’s also an instrumental part of the continued growth of Jinko Solar, the world’s largest producer of solar panels.
Jinko has been growing at a breakneck speed since its launch in 2006, with Qian playing an important role in developing and implementing the company’s market positioning strategy. The company sells its products in 100 countries and has 15,000 employees across seven production facilities and overseas subsidiaries.
Qian is a 10-year industry veteran and a highly visible advocate for solar power solutions and broader global sustainability conversations. Qian was selected to represent the Chinese solar industry at the landmark COP-21, in 2011, which resulted in the Paris Agreement.
With Jinko playing a huge role in providing energy alternatives around the globe, Qian has earmarked a new roadmap for the company to have all its operations and facilities powered by renewables by 2025.
“As the world’s largest solar module manufacturer, it doesn’t make sense that we produce renewable equipment but not use renewable energy ourselves,” Qian has said. “We are well positioned to lead the industry in the pursuit of giving the next generation a livable planet, an affordable and sustainable energy solution.”
10. John Eric Francia, CEO, AC Energy
In July, AC Energy’s green bond — the first US-dollar-denominated green bond listed in Southeast Asia — was topped up on the Singapore exchange, bringing the total amount raised to $470 million.
The bond is a crucial part of a push by AC Energy’s founder John Eric T Francia to integrate sustainability into the core of its business.
Francia established AC Energy in 2012 in response to what he saw as a significant energy infrastructure gap in his native Philippines. As a net importer of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, there is much momentum in the Philippines to develop renewable sources and gain greater-energy security.
As well as projects in Vietnam and Indonesia, AC Energy operates three solar-power projects and two wind farms in the Philippines.
In a further sign of the company’s backing of clean power, the company this year said it would divest all its coal interests in the country.
“With strong electricity growth and progressive renewables policies, we are very excited to pursue renewable energy opportunities around the region,” Francia tells Business Insider. “AC Energy aspires to become the largest listed renewables platform in Southeast Asia.”
1. Melanie Perkins, Cofounder and CEO, Canva
Melanie Perkins is not only one of Australia’s best-known tech entrepreneurs — she’s also the country’s youngest billionaire.
Perkins founded free-to-use online design platform Canva with her two partners in 2013, in part as a response to their frustrations with existing professional design tools.
The thinking behind Canva from the very start was to offer tools that would simplify the design process, especially for users who don’t necessarily have a design background. It was an attractive proposition and by 2012 was attracting investors, including celebrity backers Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson.
The company now has 30 million active users across 190 markets and is used by 85% of Fortune 500 companies. Over the past year it has doubled both revenue and user numbers.
In June the company raised $60 million in a funding round that was 10x oversubscribed, bringing its valuation to $6 billion. It followed an injection of $85 million last October.
Perkins has said the company wants to use the new funds to expand the Canva team, while investing more in its paid services, Canva Pro and Canva for Enterprise.
2. Mike Cannon-Brookes, Co-CEO and Cofounder, Atlassian
Often referred to as an accidental billionaire, Mike Cannon-Brookes is the cofounder and CEO of Australian enterprise-software giant Atlassian, best known for its Jira and Confluence products.
Cannon-Brookes established the company with business partner Scott Farquar in 2002, initially as a way to earn a graduate-level salary without working for a corporation. The company today has a staff of 4,000 in seven countries and 170,000 enterprise customers.
More recently, Cannon-Brookes has been using his profile to agitate for climate-change action and faster adoption of renewable energy, as well as calls for regulatory reform in the energy sector.
Cannon-Brookes is a backer of the One Million Jobs Plan launched in June in Australia by climate-focused think tank Beyond Zero Emissions, and which aims to create jobs through renewable energy and low-emission projects. He is a recent investor in Sun Cable, a giant solar farm in Australia’s Northern Territory that aims to supply electricity to Singapore.
Back at Atlassian, Cannon-Brookes is making a statement with his plans to build the world’s tallest hybrid timber tower, in Sydney, which will function as Altassian’s new headquarters, while helping the company achieve its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
3. Motoyuki Arai, CEO, Synspective
Although delayed by COVID-19, Synspective CEO Motoyuki Arai’s out-of-this-world ambition for 2020 remains: to launch his first satellite into space.
Synspective is an aerospace startup backed by deep pockets. By July 2019, and just 17 months since the company was founded, Synspective had secured about $100 million in funding, making it one of Japan’s fastest-growing startups.
The company’s satellites map the earth’s surface using a synthetic aperture radar. The highly detailed images will provide businesses and organisations with the data they need to tackle a range of problems, from monitoring of terrain to assisting with disaster relief. Synspective aims to build a constellation of at least 25 of the 100 kg satellites, with the first six launched by 2022.
Arai formed Synspective alongside Seiko Shirasaka, a professor in System Design and Management. Between them, they’re infusing their business model with noble purpose.
“The key factors for a sustainable global future are the creation of objective data, the understanding of said data, and the learning from that cycle,” Arai tells Business Insider. “We will gain these factors through Synspective’s satellite system and analytics. Then we can look over our global economic activities from orbit, and course correct when needed.”
4. Brendan Blumer, CEO, Block.one
Block One made tech headlines in 2018 when it raised $4 billion through an initial coin offering. While the amount raised was a lot of money for a product not even live at the time of the offering, it showed the huge confidence in Block One’s proprietary EOSIO software among the blockchain community.
Hong Kong-based Block One was founded by entrepreneur Brendan Blumer alongside CTO Daniel Larimer, a leading engineer and thought leader in the blockchain space and publisher of the EOSIO protocol.
The latest product to be released by Blumer and Block One using the EOISO protocol was in July. Voice, a blockchain-based social-media platform was made public in read-only mode and seen by the company as an alternative to existing big tech social media.
“APAC is a thriving market for blockchain expansion,” Blumer tells Business Insider. “At a policy level, governments are enacting innovative programs that are blazing the trail for blockchain adoption. At the population level, people understand the externally verifiable integrity that blockchain can bring to the systems they depend on, so they’re actively supporting initiatives with a willingness to adapt and adopt, to leverage the benefits of transparency, security, and public interoperability.”
5. Roshni Nadar, Chairperson, HCL Technologies
Roshni Nadar Malhotra is said to live and breathe HCL technologies — hardly surprising given she’s the chairperson of the company and the daughter of the founder.
In July, Roshni Nadar Malhotra succeeded her father, Shiv Nadar, as chairperson of the $10 billion IT services company HCL Technologies. The move marked the first time a woman has led a listed IT company in India.
Nadar was not new to HCL. As well as her family connection, she had previously held a number of roles within the business, including executive director and CEO of HCL Corp., HCL Technologies’ holding company.
Nadar is taking over a company of huge scale. The company operates in 49 countries worldwide and provides enterprise-level IT products, services, and engineering at enterprise level to 250 of Fortune 500 companies.
It is not clear how, if at all, Nadar’s appointment will affect HCL’s future business. Her father will remain as chief strategy officer and the company is expected to continue its shift from its focus on engineering services and more toward products and IP.
6. Sudhir Agarwal, Founder and CEO, Everise
With more and more corporates now having to compete on customer service as much as product, Everise founder and CEO Sudhir Agarwal believes he has a solution.
Argawal established Everise in 2016 with a vision to disrupt the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. Beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar facilities, he reimagined an outsourcing business that offers a more holistic, tech-powered solution to help organizations manage their business.
Argawal’s strategy has been to focus investment in digital experience (DX) technology that can free workers from more mundane and repetitive tasks. Everise’s proprietary AI-powered chatbots, virtual-assistant technology, robot process automation and other DX tools are able to optimise customer and employee experiences for clients.
COVID-19 has been a test case for Argawal’s ideas around new ways of working for the BPO industry. He says Everise was the first BPO to transition 90% of its global workforce to work from home within two weeks in March.
“I truly believe that the outsourcing model of the future is going to be one that is both globally distributed and blended between work-at-home and brick-and-mortar,” Agarwal tells Business Insider. “We are calling this cloud-shoring. We will continue to invest in our people, process, and technologies, which will continue to distinguish us as a next-generation BPO.”
7. Serguei Beloussov, Founder and CEO, Acronis
When Serguei Beloussov returned to lead the company he’d founded a decade earlier, he had a clear idea of how it would transform the cybersecurity industry.
Beloussov, who was born and raised in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, moved to Singapore in 1994 and founded cybersecurity solutions provider Acronis in 2001.
Returning as CEO in 2013 after a 12-year break, he made the decision to change the company business model from data-protection company to cyberprotection. Key to this strategy has been Acronis’ ability to provide companies with a full-service cyberprotection infrastructure.
This strategic shift was validated last year when the company raised $147 million in a funding round led by Goldman Sachs, which brought it to unicorn status. In addition, Acronis Cyber Protect earned Frost & Sullivan’s 2020 New Product Innovation Award for Data Protection in North America.
“Legacy solutions are dead,” Beloussov tells Business Insider. “The convergence of cybersecurity and data protection has introduced the world to a new concept: cyberprotection. Acronis coined the term and has been promoting it across the globe, aiming to equip businesses, big and small, with efficient and innovative tools to fight off modern cyberthreats.”
8. Winnie Lee, Cofounder and COO, Appier
For a country with a strong legacy of technologically advanced companies, Taiwan’s startup scene is seriously lagging its Asian peers. One big exception is Appier, which at the end of last year became the country’s second-ever unicorn.
Appier provides AI-based solutions to the marketing industry, helping brands and retailers predict consumer behaviour and make more precise customer decisions.
Winnie Lee has been with the company since the start, and as COO she is responsible for building and scaling the company’s operations, while helping to drive its business strategy. Over the past few years, this has included a number of major acquisitions, such as the purchase of Japan-based AI startup Emotion Intelligence (Emin) in October of last year.
Business growth was given a boost in November last year when Appier raised $80 million, which brought total investment to date to $162 million and finally cemented unicorn status. The latest round of funding is to be used to expand in Asia. In June, Appier said that it was also beginning expansion into Europe.
“The shift to digital business has been accelerated as people everywhere have changed how they work, play, shop, and socialize,” Lee tells Business Insider. “AI will continue to play a critical role in providing businesses with intelligence that helps them adapt quickly to evolving customer needs driven by ongoing social and economic changes.”
9. Emily Wilcox, COO, Practifi
Two years ago, Australia’s Practifi made a splash in the SaaS community when it appointed then 27-year-old Emily Wilcox as its COO, with a brief to lead the company’s operations across Australia and the US.
The hire of Wilcox by Practifi was a surprise to not only the male-dominated fintech sector, but also the traditionally conservative financial services industry. The investment community, however, was unconcerned. In January, Practifi completed its Series B funding to the tune of $16.3 million.
Practifi is a business and employee-management platform that helps financial advisers manage clients, partners, and providers on a single interface.
Launched in 2013, the company’s main feature is a “compliant by design” platform that captures data automatically and offers compliance-monitoring tools, which drastically cuts down the time financial firms need to spend on regulatory compliance.
Wilcox, who splits her time between Chicago and Sydney, joined Practifi in 2015 as one of the company’s first employees, soon after earning her law degree. Although she had no previous fintech experience, she has learned the business from the ground up and is now driving Practifi’s global expansion.
“At Practifi, we’re reinventing the technology experience for the financial advice industry,” Wilcox tells Business Insider. “We see a future where advisers spend more time with their clients and less time battling disconnected tools and systems. As COO, I make sure we have the processes, people, and technology in place to deliver.
10. Lennise Ng, Cofounder and CEO, Dropee
In June, B2B ecommerce platform Dropee teamed up with Malaysia’s ministry of agriculture to collaborate on the distribution of food across the country during the pandemic. The partnership was further recognition of the ambitious startup, headed by CEO and cofounder Lennise Ng.
Ng founded the company with Aizat Rahim in 2017, after the pair identified significant gaps in the wholesale food business supply chain, particularly around connectivity. Dropee acts as a one-stop online marketplace that connects suppliers and retailers by creating a space where businesses can source and sell goods more efficiently.
The platform helps Malaysia’s agricultural and fisheries businesses open additional sales channels by moving their operations online. Dropee also works with partners to help users access logistics, financing, and insurance support.
Riding the confidence of the MOA tie-up, in July Dropee raised $1.3 million in an extended seed round. Ng says the investment will be used to automate the digital onboarding process for its customers, as well as help with plans to expand Dropee into Singapore.
Ng told Business Insider, “The future of B2B trading and wholesale businesses is all about bridging the gap between the offline and online experience. During this pandemic, many businesses have sped up their digital adoption using Dropee. It is a necessary move for them – after all, necessity is the mother of innovation.”
1. Piyush Gupta, CEO, DBS
In 2013, years after taking the top job at Singapore-based bank DBS, Piyush Gupta had an epiphany. Seeing the looming threat from upcoming fintech players, he decided that DBS had to stop thinking like a bank and start thinking like a tech company.
Gupta’s strategy has been a huge success. Last year, DBS was named the world’s best bank by Euromoney, while the Harvard Business Review named DBS in its list of business transformations of the decade, alongside tech giants such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Alibaba.
While tech is Gupta’s inspiration, he is still firmly a banker at heart. His financial career began when he joined Citibank India at the age of 22. Postings in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia followed, before joining DBS in 2009. A decade later, DBS last year posted record annual profits and is now the largest bank in Southeast Asia by total assets.
2. Walter de Oude, Founder and Group CEO, Singlife
Walter de Oude’s two-decade career in insurance and financial services taught him that if the industry wanted to resonate with consumers, it needed to change fast.
His response was Singlife, which he founded in 2017 with the idea of reimagining financial services, with a focus on digital transformation.
Key for De Oude was to place the customer experience at the heart of Singlife’s business. To this end, the company’s flagship product, app-based flexible insurance savings plan Singlife Account, was launched. The app breaks down traditional financial silos and connects savings, investment and insurance into a single, seamless experience.
Singlife’s digital-only approach — all customer communications are made through WhatsApp, rather than phone, email or branches — served it well during Singapore’s COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year. The Singlife Account, which launched in November last year, had 50,000 app downloads during the first month of lockdown.
De Oude’s next objective is to continue to scale the Singlife Account, while looking to expand the company beyond Singapore.
“The lines between financial services are beginning to blur,” De Oude tells Business Insider. “Once slow and plagued with paper, insurance is becoming more instant, offering better experiences and returns fit for mobile-first users. With faster underwriting and more accessible savings and investments, we are reshaping finance to unlock the potential of money for everyone.”
3. Eric Jing, CEO and Executive Chairperson, Ant Financial
In July this year, executive chairperson of Ant Group Eric Jing set in motion something financial markets had been waiting for: a concurrent IPO on the Hong Kong and Shanghai exchanges.
The anticipation has been understandable. Ant Financial is the world’s most valuable Fintech company and is said to be targeting a $200 billion valuation upon listing.
Ant Group, part of the vast Alibaba online empire, grew out of Alipay, the firm’s digital wallet service. Alipay became Ant Financial in 2014 and was renamed as Ant Group earlier this year.
Jing has been with the company from the beginning. Joining Alibaba in 2007, he was made CFO of Alipay in 2009 and was COO of Ant Financial at launch. His pre-Alibaba career included senior financial management positions in both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.
Although Ant Group has built its revenues on financial products, the recent name change was introduced by Jing in part to reflect a shift in direction.
Almost half Ant Group’s revenues in 2019 came from the technological infrastructure it provides to enterprise clients, an area which looks set to grow. The company’s latest innovation is the AntChain initiative, a blockchain solution based on the company’s own blockchain technology, which was announced earlier this year.
4. Nina D. Aguas, Executive Chairperson, Insular Life
Nina D. Aguas has for several decades been blazing a trail for female leaders in the Philippines banking industry. Her career has been a series of firsts. She was the first country manager for Citibank in the Philippines, as well as the first female managing director at ANZ Retail Bank in Asia Pacific.
Aguas is executive at Insular Life, the largest domestic life insurance company in the Philippines. After a 30-year career in banking, Aguas wanted to turn her sights on building a culture of life insurance in a country where the majority of the population has limited access to financial services.
In particular, Aguas has spearheaded Insular Life’s push to promote financial inclusion for Filipino women in partnership with the International Finance Corporation. In 2019, Aguas announced the next phase of the program InLife Sheroes, which promotes wellness and community building alongside financial literacy.
Aguas joined the company as its first female CEO in 2015 and now heads a company that has high female representation at both board and senior management level. Three of Insular Life’s trustees are female, while 12 of the company’s 19-strong senior leadership team are also female, including the company CEO.
She has also spearheaded Insular Life’s push to promote financial inclusion for Filipino women in partnership with the International Finance Corporation. In 2019, Aguas announced the next phase of the program InLife Sheroes.
“As a Filipino financial institution that has been serving the Filipinos for 108 years, we are keen to contribute to the financial inclusion agenda for women in our country. We will provide protection and risk mitigating solutions to women along with investment opportunities. Subsequently, this will help them survive a loss of income or an unforeseen event,” Aguas says.
5. Shemara Wikramanayake, CEO, Macquarie Group
Shemara Wikramanayake made headlines last year when she was named Australia’s highest-paid CEO, the first female to achieve the accolade.
This was a significant achievement for a woman whose family arrived in Australia from Sri Lanka when she was just 14 years old.
Wikramanayake is not new to breaking barriers.
When she first became CEO of Macquarie Group, a financial services company with operations in retail and business banking, asset management, wealth management and more, she was at that time the only female CEO among Australia’s 20 largest companies by market value, as well as the first-ever Asian-Australian female to lead a company listed on the S&P/ASX 200.
Much of Wikramanayake’s is focusing the bank on sustainable investments. She recently announced Macquarie’s plans to develop a portfolio of clean energy projects and said the bank was aiming to raise up to $673 million to support investments.
Last year she also joined the World Bank’s Global Center on Adaptation, an organisation set up to manage the effects of climate change through technology planning and change. She is one of only three company CEOs in the group.
6. Ho-young Yun, CEO, Kakao Bank
Even in the experimental world of fintech, few observers would have believed that a messaging app best known for producing cute cartoon stickers would diversify into Korea’s leading virtual bank. But that’s what happened with Kakao Bank.
Yun Ho-young took over control at Kakao Bank in March this year, after previously sharing the CEO role with Lee Yong-woo. Yun had joined the bank in 2015 after parent company Kakao acquired his previous employer, the internet portal Daum.
Yun has been leading one of Korea’s most spectacular tech business stories. It was Yun who set up a task force to create the bank in the first place, but even he must have been taken aback by the response. Within four days of its launch in July 2017, the bank had attracted over 820,000 customers. After one month that number grew to 3.5 million.
Much of this early success can be attributed to the bank’s connection to Kakao Talk, which is by far Korea’s most popular messaging app. The critical mass of users — Kakao Talk is downloaded on 94% of Korean smartphones — certainly helped, but it was also due to Yun’s ability to integrate financial expertise and customer understanding into Kakao’s world-leading technology.
Looking forward, Yun is eyeing a lucrative IPO. The listing move has been discussed for the past two years and in April this year Yun said the company would go public in the second half of 2020.
7. Lucy Liu, President and Cofounder, Airwallex
In 2015, a group of college friends in Melbourne were seeking a solution to a business problem. Two of the group had set up a coffee shop in the Australian city but were feeling the pain of fees imposed by banks on their imports from China. Pursuing a more equitable solution, the group decided to quit their jobs and Airwallex was born.
Airwallex is a cross-border payments platform that targets companies doing businesses in multiple countries. The service can save users up to 90% on their foreign exchange rates compared to traditional banks, as well as simplifying the challenge of doing business overseas.
Earlier this year, Airwallex raised $160 million in Series D funding, and has now raised a total of $360 million.
Lucy Liu, one of the four founders and now company president, gave up a job in investment banking to join her friends. Like her cofounders she is from China and moved to Australia in 2008 to study, having previously settled with her family in New Zealand.
Liu’s international exposure has served her well. She is leading the company’s plans to expand into Europe, North America, and the Middle East, helped by what she says is a large contributor to the success of Airwallex — having the “regulatory mindset” to navigate global banking markets.
8. Taejun Shin, Founder, GoJo & Co.
Taejun Shin may be considered an over-achiever. Alongside his business ventures, he has written nine books about finance and child welfare, has a black belt in karate, is a sixth dan at Chinese board game Go, and has run a 1,648-km ultramarathon.
His main passion, though, is in micro-investments.
Shin founded GoJo & Co. in 2014 with the intention of providing better financial access across the developing world. The company works with microfinance institutions (MFIs) and provides them with the funds and support they need to formalize and expand their businesses.
“We work to extend financial inclusion to the ordinary low-income households in developing nations. 30-40% of them are illiterate. Many technologists push Fintech ignoring the realities. To create a true impact through tech-enabled microfinance, we have to design services which even our grandmothers can use,” Taejun told Business Insider.
GoJo & Co. works with MFIs in India, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, providing finance for more than 400,000 people.
In June, the company invested an additional $3.7 million into Aviom India Housing Finance, which provides affordable housing loans to low-income families. It was GoJo’s third India-based investment in 2020.
Unsurprisingly, given his extensive résumé, GoJo wasn’t Shin’s first enterprise. In 2007, he founded an NGO Living in Peace, which aimed to alleviate poverty by providing equal opportunities. Two years later, he launched Japan’s first microfinance investment fund. Before this, he managed private-equity investments at Morgan Stanley and Unison.
9. Ari Sarker, Copresident, Mastercard
As Asia rapidly embraces digital commerce, Mastercard’s Asia Pacific copresident Ari Sarker is establishing Mastercard as a natural partner of choice for firms in the fintech landscape.
In his role, Sarker oversees all of Mastercard’s activities in the region including sales, business strategy and development, as well relationships with banks, merchants, and governments.
It is in the area of fintech, however, that he is helping innovate Mastercard in the region.
At the end of 2019, the brand launched its Fintech Express in the region. The tailored program provides fintech startups with increased speed-to-market, access to a suite of digital-first products, and a cross-functional team of experts to be able to successfully build their offerings
Sarker, who joined Mastercard in 2011 following 12 years at GE, is also an advocate of digitizing the true growth engines of economies — the small merchants and micro SMEs. By focusing on building and creating partnerships around value-added services, such as micro financing, credit underwriting, and instalment payments, he believes Mastercard can better enable them to do business.
“The digital economy is the future and Asia is already leaping ahead,” Sarker tells Business Insider. “By partnering actively with governments, banks, fintechs and telcos, we’re creating powerful infrastructures and vibrant marketplaces with the highest levels of speed, security and accessibility.”
10. Aldi Haryopratomo, CEO, GoPay
The battle for the Indonesian consumers’ digital wallet has accelerated rapidly over the past 12 months, and GoPay, led by Aldi Haryopratomo, is fast taking the lead.
In a country traditionally seen as cash-based, the rush to provide the country’s huge population with a digital payment option has taken off.
Currently there are 37 e-wallet operators licensed by the Indonesian National Bank. Chinese payment app WeChat Pay entered the market in January, while Alibaba’s Alipay is expected to formalize its entry into the market this year.
GoPay, though, is the first choice for Indonesians.
The platform grew out of MAPAN, a group savings network founded by Haryopatomo and acquired by GoPay parent Gojek in 2017.
GoPay has an early-mover advantage in the crowded digital-wallet market in brand recognition, but the real differentiator in the market is its exclusive integration in the Gojek super app, which means when it comes to payments for rides, food deliveries, and more, the choice is either cash or GoPay.
“GoPay aims to provide equal access to financial services for everyone in Southeast Asia,” Haryopratomo tells Business Insider. “Gojek first launched GoPay to address the inconvenience of cash usage and help drivers access housing and education loans for their families. Since then we’ve made tremendous progress, helping millions of people experience cashless transactions for the first time.”
1. Christophe Weber, CEO, Takeda
When Christophe Weber took over the CEO position, in 2015, his objective was to transform the centuries-old company into a top 10 global pharma player.
This year that mission was accomplished, thanks in big part to the $62 billion acquisition of Irish rival Shire, completed in January 2019. The deal was the largest takeover ever undertaken by a Japanese company and has accelerated Takeda’s global footprint, in particular increasing its exposure in the US market.
Tokyo-based Weber is already looking beyond the Shire deal. In June this year, he announced Takeda would be divesting much of its over-the-counter portfolio and focusing instead on its core prescription treatments.
Weber also ruffled some feathers in Japan when rumors surfaced of his plans to sell Takeda’s Osaka headquarters and cut spending on R&D. This kind of thinking is uncommon in Japan but is reflective of Weber’s direction for the company.
“As the world continues to navigate COVID-19, the speed and collaboration in the pursuit of treatments and vaccines is unprecedented,” Weber tells Business Insider. “At Takeda, this is what we do all the time: pushing the boundaries of collaboration to bring forth the next generation of therapies and making sure these treatments reach patients across the world.”
2. Dorthe Mikkelsen, President of Asia Pacific, MSD
As Asia Pacific President at MSD, known as Merck in the US and Canada, Dorthe Mikkelsen is leading the pharma company across some of the world’s fastest-growing and most challenging markets.
Mikkelsen, who is MSD’s first female president in the region and one of very few women leading global pharmaceutical companies in Asia Pacific, is up for the challenge.
An MSD veteran of over 21 years, Mikkelsen says she is still passionate about the science behind MSD’s product portfolio but sees the bigger task to be how to get those medicines and treatments into the hands of healthcare professionals and patients.
“At MSD we’re committed to identifying innovative ways to address rapidly evolving healthcare needs across the Asia Pacific Region,” Mikkelsen tells Business Insider.
A good example is the MSD for Mothers initiative, a $500 million project set up to help prevent vulnerable women from dying during pregnancy and childbirth.
To date, MSD has invested in 12 maternal-health related programs across nine countries in Asia Pacific, reaching more than 2.3 million women and nearly 19,000 healthcare professionals. Efforts in India — one of MSD for Mothers’ priority countries — have helped improve the quality of maternity care for 1 million women.
3. Ken Endo, CEO, Xiborg
In 2014, Xiborg CEO Ken Endo teamed up with para-athlete Keita Sato to develop a new prosthetic blade for competition. The partnership was a success. Sato, who had lost his leg to cancer when he was 15, wore the Xiborg blade at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, taking bronze in the men’s 4x100m relay.
The collaboration with Sato was the first test case for Xiborg, which specializes in creating prosthetic limbs for athletes.
It was also an indicator of how the company is able to innovate its products by building close partnerships with athletes at all stages of development. The same end-user design collaboration is also reflected in Xiborg’s senior management.
Dae Tamesue, who was the first Japanese sprinter to win a medal at a track event at a world competition, is the company’s Running Officer. Xiborg also works closely with US Paralympian Jarryd Wallace.
Endo’s 2020 ambition was firmly set on the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, but rather than lament cancellation of the event, Endo says he is energised to rethink Xiborg’s mission, and focus more on the development of affordable running blades for everyone, not just athletes.
4. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Founder, Biocon
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw’s entrepreneurial story reads like a page from the startup playbook.
Mazumdar-Shaw founded Biocon, now one of India’s largest biopharmaceutical companies, in the garage of her rented house in the city of Bengaluru in 1978. In the early days, it was a challenge for her to attract investors because of her age and gender, but a chance meeting with a banker at a social function helped her obtain her first financial support.
Over 40 years later, Biocon now manufactures generic drugs that are sold in over 120 countries across the world. It also produces a range of branded formulations for the Indian market.
Mazumdar-Shaw’s current focus is firmly on COVID-19. Biocon is testing its itolizumab drug as a treatment for moderate to severe patients. Biocon’s research arm Syngene International is also running an approved COVID-19 testing laboratory to speed up affordable testing in Bengaluru, where Biocon is still headquartered.
Mazumdar-Shaw is considering listing Biocon in the next few years. Investors will be keen. In July this year, Tata Capital injected US$30 million into the company, which valued Biocon at $3.5 billion. This came hot on the heels of an earlier $75 million investment by the True North Fund.
5. Liao Jieyuan, Founder and CEO, WeDoctor
With a solid background in artificial intelligence, Liao Jieyuan, wanted to see how machine learning could advance China’s healthcare sector.
In 2010, he formed Guahao, an online service to help patients book consultation appointments. Five years later, the platform was renamed WeDoctor, and is now one of China’s leading online healthcare solutions providers.
The WeDoctor proposition is simple: to use the internet, big data, and AI technologies to help relieve some of the huge bottlenecks that exist in China’s trillion-dollar healthcare market, while at the same time making quality healthcare more accessible.
Liao’s technical background has been crucial to WeDoctor’s development. He was a pioneer in China’s intelligent speech recognition industry and owns a number of patents in the area. Liao was also the director of the Chinese government’s 863 Program, an initiative to stimulate the development of advanced technologies in the country.
WeDoctor’s road to success is not without challenges. The healthcare app market is highly competitive, with big players such as Ping An Good Doctor, backed by one of China’s biggest insurers, and Alibaba Health.
To help raise capital for expansion, WeDoctor is finally expected to debut on the Hong Kong exchange by the end of this year, with the aim of raising between $700 million and $900 million.
6. Danny Yeung, Founder and CEO, Prenetics
Danny Yeung’s vision of helping people proactively manage their health finally came to life last year with the launch of CircleDNA, his company’s first direct to consumer DNA testing kit.
Genetic testing and digital health company Prenetics began life in 2014 as a side project for a group of university professors. Initially focused on prenatal genetic screening for expectant mothers, under the leadership of Yeung the company broadened its offering, first with tests sold only to medical professionals.
In late 2018, the company stepped up its ambition when it formed a joint venture with China’s leading clinical genomics testing company Berry Genomics, which would open the huge mainland China market to Prenetics’ products.
Prenetics’ potential has not gone unnoticed by investors. To date the company has attracted up to $50 million in funding from a variety of investors, including Alibaba.
Prenetics is not Yeung’s first experience in the startup world. In his late 20s he was involved in a number of ventures, including an F&B franchising business and a company selling hospitality furniture. In 2010 he founded a group buying platform uBuyiBuy in Hong Kong, which was bought over just six months later by GroupOn.
7. Kentaro Yoshifuji, CEO, OriHime
When Kentaro Yoshifuji was in high school, he was unable to attend classes in person for medical reasons. While he often spoke of the profound loneliness he felt during that period, the experience would eventually give birth to his company OriHime.
OriHime is a robot technology equipped with a camera, microphone, and speakers that allow users to see through its eyes and interact with others through gestures and voice communication. The robot is operated through the internet by smartphone or tablet.
Yoshifuji, known for his all-black, “Matrix”-style lab coat, set up the company in 2012. A robotics fanatic, he had invented a new mechanic for an electric wheelchair while still in school.
While the OrHime robot has many applications, including ones related to travel, business and learning, it is within the healthcare sector where its transformational power is most exciting.
Yoshifuji is especially keen to explore its potential for motor neuron disease patients. The OrHime technology includes a wearable device that captures motion from the user’s eyes to input messages, which are then read aloud by the robot, and which would transform patient communications.
8. Piers Ingram, Cofounder and CEO, Hummingbird Bioscience
Armed with a degree in mathematics, biological sciences and a passion for solving the unsolvable, Piers Ingram eschewed convention when he left a high-flying commercial pharma career in 2015 and invested everything he had into the creation of Hummingbird Bioscience, a Singapore-based biotech company.
Today his company is competing alongside biopharma giants in the pursuit of delivering effective drug candidates against disease targets that conventional drug discovery methods have been unable to achieve.
In just five years, the company has successfully produced novel drug candidates against two of the most challenging oncology targets, as well as a rich pipeline of new candidates to address serious, hard-to-treat conditions, from cancer to autoimmune and infectious diseases.
Ingram says Hummingbird’s platforms have the potential to upend conventional drug discovery – often a hit-and-miss process – and transform the industry. In the past 12 months, Hummingbird has attracted partners such as Amgen and Cancer Research UK.
“COVID-19 has spurred the need for not only new innovations, but also the need for more efficient ways to bring these innovations to the fore,” Ingram tells Business Insider. “It is changing the way drug R&D is being done, and I believe that what we have created at Hummingbird will bring even more momentum to a faster, more efficient approach to drug discovery and will be able to make an impact across a broad spectrum of diseases.”
9. Esther Go, CEO, MediLink
Esther Go is the self-professed ‘chief geek’ at MediLink Network, a Philippines-based health tech company that is transforming healthcare access across the country.
For Go, more formally known as the company CEO, MediLink is all about democratizing healthcare – enabling efficient, accessible and affordable healthcare through technology innovation.
Go, who studied computer science at undergraduate level before receiving an MBA from Harvard, joined the company in 2006 when it had only seven employees. Inspired by how ATMs had transformed the banking business, she wanted to develop a platform that could do something similar for the healthcare ecosystem.
The result was the creation of an electronic network across the country that provides trusted transactions between patients, healthcare providers and insurers. It is the only fully-electronic health network in a country where healthcare provision can be extremely fragmented, and has over two million members and a network of over 30,000 doctors and more than 700 health facilities.
The company also provides health-tech services ranging from eligibility verification, transaction authorization, claim processing and fraud analytics.
10. Zhong Huijian, CEO, Hansoh Pharmaceutical Group Co.
When Hansoh Pharmaceutical went public in Hong Kong in the middle of last year, CEO Zhong Huijian became an instant billionaire several times over.
Along with her husband, Sun Piaoyang, who leads a separate pharma company, Zhong is now part of what is officially China’s wealthiest couple.
For Zhong, a former chemistry teacher, the path to riches was long. She founded Hansoh back in 1995, becoming CEO in 2001. In the two decades before listing, she developed the company’s capabilities, initially in cancer treatments and then including a broader portfolio involving treatments for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and more.
Hansoh now has more than 30 generic drugs on the China market. The company has benefited from the trillion-dollar healthcare spend in the country, and in particular from recently introduced government policies around the procurement of generics, which on price alone favors domestic players over global pharma firms.
Last year, Hansoh won out over foreign competitors to receive public-hospital contracts for two generic products — mental-disorder-therapy olanzapine and leukaemia drug imatinib. The contracts were across 11 Chinese cities, which together represent roughly one third of the Chinese drug market.
1. Melvyn Pun, CEO, Yoma Strategic Holdings
By 2012 Melvyn Pun had carved out a career as an investment banker, but a visit to his parents’ homeland of Myanmar persuaded him to take a different tack and join the family business.
That business happened to be one of Myanmar’s largest. Pun’s father Serge is the founder of a wide-reaching conglomerate with interests across automotive, real estate, infrastructure, agriculture, and banking. One of its businesses, First Myanmar Investment, was the very first company to list on the Yangon stock exchange in 2016.
Once back in the family fold, Pun took over leadership at the Singapore-listed Yoma Strategic Holdings in 2015. The ex-Goldman Sachs banker is passionate about the increasing investment opportunities in Myanmar, still one of the region’s least developed economies, especially those in emerging business sectors.
In June, Pun upped his interests in the country’s fledgling fintech sector, taking a controlling stake in Wave Money, one of Myanmar’s leading mobile financial services players, buying out Norwegian telco giant Telenor for a reported $75 million.
“Only a quarter of Myanmar’s population have access to formal financial services, but with the rapid adoption of digital products and wide internet penetration, we believe Wave Money can transform the livelihood of the mass population as many start to embrace digital payments in their daily lives,” Pun tells Business Insider.
2. Jimmy Kim, Cofounder and Partner, SparkLabs Global Ventures
In the world of Korean startups, Jimmy Kim and the team at Seoul-based global accelerator SparkLabs are an interesting offering — a company of entrepreneurs helping other entrepreneurs find their feet.
SparkLabs was established in 2012 as a way to help boost Korea’s startup ecosystem, and since then has been supporting some of the country’s most innovative early-stage companies.
Kim has a number of startups of his own on his résumé. He was a founding investor in Studio Ex, an online gaming studio acquired by Disney in 2012. He is also a cofounder of N3N, an IoT enterprise software platform that was Cisco’s first global IoT investment.
Despite the impact of COVID-19, SparkLabs is not losing momentum. In April, the company said it had partnered with Shinhan Capital to launch a fund of just over $8 million to support early-stage startups. Kim says the money will be used primarily to invest in SparkLabs alumni and other early-stage startups.
“During this COVID-19 era, new sets of problems are arising and disrupting all aspects of our lives,” Kim tells Business Insider. “We have always believed in helping passionate startups who set out to solve serious problems with their unique insight and technology. We will pursue our mission of helping them in these challenging times.”
3. Kirstin Hunter, Managing Director, Future Super
With an increasing number of Australians looking to put their superannuation payments into investments that try to make the world a better place, Kirstin Hunter is making sure they have credible options regarding where to place their money.
Hunter is managing director at Australian retail superannuation fund Future Super. In May she was promoted to cofounder, with the company saying she would be responsible for identifying market opportunities and developing strategic business plans, as well as continuing to build Future Super’s market position.
Hunter’s main niche is in ethical investing. Future Super offers three superannuation investment options, all of which are fossil-free and ethically driven. It uses a screening system that directs money away from companies and industries deemed to create harm.
Hunter has also been a driving force in a number of Future Super’s more progressive customer initiatives.
One of her offerings, BabyBump, sets out to help alleviate gender inequality in the superannuation system, in particular the problem of employers not paying super when staff need to take parental leave. The program gives fee rebates to members who have become new parents for the period they are on parental leave.
4. Finian Tan, Founder, Vickers Venture Partners
Finian Tan’s first headline investment came back in 2000 when he saw the potential in a small Chinese startup which at that time had no revenue and just one customer. The startup was future search giant Baidu, and Tan’s $7.5 million investment bought his then employer Draper Fisher Jurvetson a 25% share in what quickly became a billion-dollar business.
Tan is now cofounder and chairperson of Vickers Venture Partners, one of Asia Pacific’s top VC performers. The company, established in 2005, has been a highly active investor in Singapore and beyond, with an emphasis on deep-tech companies in areas such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and AI.
One of Tan’s most recent investments was UK-based biotech company Emergex, which is involved in developing vaccines for COVID-19 as well as other infectious diseases. Vickers joined the $11 million Series A funding, with Tan joining the Energex board as nonexecutive director.
Earlier this year, Vickers announced that it had raised $200 million for its $500 million fund, which has a portfolio of 11 companies. It is the sixth fund managed by the firm.
“We are the only deep-tech-focused VC firms based in Southeast Asia,” Tan tells Business Insider. “Investing in deep tech helps investors to see the future and use the knowledge gleaned to inform other investments in their portfolio. The next decade, or beyond, will be defined by the technologies being developed today.”
5. Jenny Lee, Managing Partner, GGV Capital
Jenny Lee is a pioneer investor in the Chinese tech space, where she has spent 15 years leading some of the most exciting VC investments.
Lee joined GGV Capital in 2005, with the aim of establishing the firm’s presence in China. By any standard this has proved to be a wise move, with GGV’s portfolio including a number of China’s most valuable companies.
Lee’s investments are primarily in the online and enterprise tech space. Recent investments have included online education startup Huowa, online home-decoration platform Kujiale, and Beijing-based robot producer Geek+. She has also led ten early-stage companies to go public on US and Asian exchanges.
For Lee, who originally trained as an electrical engineer, identifying disruptive technology and passionate entrepreneurs, combined with local insight, is crucial.
“While global giants are doubling down here, they are to be respected but not feared,” she tells Business Insider. “Local champions who know when to collaborate and where to compete still have an edge. We believe the talent to build great companies can come from anywhere and we want to empower them.”
6. Lisa Genasci, CEO, ADM Capital Foundation
While many investment firms are now talking a good game in terms of sustainable investing, Lisa Genasci has a 15-year track record of being at the forefront of ethically minded funding.
Genasci founded ADM Capital Foundation (ADMCF) in 2006 as a philanthropic vehicle to provide strategic funding and other support to organisations that work towards environmental health and conservation in Asia.
The foundation was established as part of Hong Kong-based investment advisor ADM Capital, which had recognised the need for impact funding that was both innovative and replicable.
ADMCF supports projects in five key areas: marine ecology, water security, air quality, wildlife trade, and forestry-conservation finance.
Genasci, who prior to founding ADMCF worked for a decade at the Associated Press, has been a pioneering voice in the environmental space, creating research, and industry partnerships. Examples include the funding of China Water Risk, which works to tackle water security and stress in China, and Aarambh India, the country’s first online resource portal against the sexual abuse of children.
7. Anna Fang, CEO, ZhenFund
As the boss at China-based early-stage venture-capital firm ZhenFund, Anna Fang manages an enviable portfolio of some 700 companies, including 10 China-based unicorns.
Fang, who began her career as an investment banker at JPMorgan in New York, has established ZhenFund’s reputation as a seed investor in some of China’s most impressive startups.
Fang’s hits since joining the company as founding partner in 2011 include $2 billion valued consumer cosmetics brand Perfect Diary, English-learning platform VIPKid, now valued at over $3 billion, and social shopping app Xiaohongshu (RED), which has a valuation of $6 billion.
Outside consumer tech, Fang has been no less successful, scoring wins with AI startups Yitu and Horizon Robotics, as well as agricultural e-commerce company Meicai, which in July said it was seeking an additional $500 million funding with a valuation as high as $12 billion.
Fang has said that her investment strategy relies not just on identifying great ideas, but also great people. She also believes that while mentorship is crucial, it is just as important to give founders space to exercise their creativity.
8. Willson Cuaca, Managing Partner, East Ventures
Very few VC companies manage to hit a home run with their very first investment, but that’s exactly what Willson Cuaca did when he wrote a check in 2010 for future Indonesian unicorn Tokopedia.
Cuaca heads up East Ventures, one of the longest-serving seed investors in Southeast Asia and a pioneering VC firm in Indonesia. Established by Cuaca and two other partners in 2010, the company focuses on consumer internet and mobile and SaaS startups, and has invested in over 180 ventures.
Tokopedia, now with a valuation of $7 billion, was the first investment but later financial injections into the likes of fellow Indonesian unicorns Traveloka and Disdus proved equally prescient.
Cuaca’s tech foresight has served East Ventures well. The company’s early single-market focus on Indonesia created a lucrative niche for the company and also helped boost Jakarta’s status as the startup capital of Southeast Asia.
Cuaca has not limited his investments to Indonesia. Outside bets have included Japanese e-commerce player Mercari and Singapore-based cashback reward program platform ShopBack.
Cuaca tells Business Insider, “We were lucky to be early investors in the Indonesian and Southeast Asian digital ecosystem, the challenges ahead may be complex, but always rewarding.”
Most recently, East Ventures said it was targeting a new US$88 million seed fund to invest in promising startups emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic.
9. Nisa Leung, Managing Partner, Qiming Venture Partners
While COVID-19 has caused many investors to take a pause, for Nisa Leung the pandemic has become an opportunity.
Leung heads up the healthcare portfolio at China-focused Qiming Venture Partners. Qiming has invested in over 100 startups in the sector, primarily in diagnostics, R&D, equipment, and services fields. Leung says her current portfolio includes over 60 companies directly involved in combating COVID-19.
Back in April, Leung was herself feeling the direct impact of COVID-19 after she had to self-quarantine in Hong Kong following a trip to the US, where she had been putting together a new $1.1 billion fund to invest in Chinese startups. This new fund raised Qiming’s total assets under management to $5.3 billion, split across nine US-dollar funds and five RMB funds.
Leung’s portfolio is a who’s who of China’s most successful and innovative healthcare firms. In June, one of Qiming’s earliest investments in the biopharma space — insulin manufacturer Gan & Lee Pharmaceuticals — listed on the Shanghai A-shares board, raising over $360 million.
Leung is also eyeing the growing med-tech sector. Qiming entered recently into a partnership with cardiovascular-device company Venus Medtech and DCP Capital to form Ascendum Capital Partners, a platform to invest in innovative medical device companies, with the aim of accelerating R&D and commercialization.
10. Ankita Vashistha, CEO, Saha Fund
Despite recent efforts to improve gender diversity among Indian startups, the low number of female founders is still a major issue in the country. This is where Ankita Vashistha and her Saha Fund are making a difference.
Saha Fund is India’s first venture-capital fund that promotes women entrepreneurship. The fund was established in 2016 and invests primarily in companies that are led by women or are focused on female-centric products and services.
Vashishta has said she started the fund in part as a response to her own experiences in the VC world, where she was often the only female in the room. This lack of representation among investors often meant that female entrepreneurs were not taken as seriously as their male counterparts, which would lead to lower valuations.
Saha Fund’s current portfolio include Fitternity, India’s largest fitness discovery and booking platform, founded by Neha Motwani, Gocoop, an online Global marketplace that enables traditional handloom and handicraft co-operatives and artisans to connect with buyers, and My Ally, a B2B SaaS company that using Artificial Intelligence to enhance professional lives, founded by Deepti Yenireddy.
In one of her most recent investments, Vashishta invested in leap.club, a private professional network for women, cofounded by female entrepreneur Ragini Das.
1. Zhou Qunfei, Founder and CEO, Lens Technology
Zhou Qunfei’s story is the embodiment of the China dream. From humble beginnings when she wondered where the next meal was coming from, she is today China’s richest woman and in 2018 was named by Forbes as the richest self-made woman.
Born into a poor rural family and having to drop out of high school at 16, Qunfei eventually put together $3,000 to start her own company in 1993.
Originally selling watch lenses, her company Lens Technology now has a market cap of roughly $20 billion and is a supplier to the likes of Apple, Samsung, and Huawei, among others.
Zhou has said that the key to her success has been continuous innovation. In 2001 Lens Technology replaced traditional Perspex phone screens with glass. In 2013 the company began investing in sapphire and 3D curved glass.
More recently Zhou has begun developing and producing industrial robots and intelligent manufacturing equipment with the aim of transforming the traditional production line.
“The Chinese economy has entered a new phase of transformation, upgrading and high-quality development, and the private economy is a main driver that can promote the high-quality development of the Chinese economy,” Zhou told China Today.
2. William Li, Chairperson and CEO, NIO
After a difficult 2019, Chinese luxury electric-vehicle manufacturer Nio is this year back on the up. In June, the company said it had delivered a record quarterly number of vehicles to the market in June this year, a new milestone for the six-year-old startup led by William Li.
With a reduction in government subsidies for EV manufacturers kicking in last year, Li says competing on price and value alone is no longer enough.
“The new energy vehicle industry is at a turning point,” he tells Business Insider. “It used to be driven by favourable policies and sales, greatly boosted by the subsidies. As subsidies reduced, EV companies now need to win over users’ hearts with products and services.”
One service area where Nio is excelling is in its battery-swapping technology. The company provides stations across the country where drivers can swap out their batteries in just three minutes. It is a service offering that few EV manufacturers have been able to use. Tesla introduced a similar technology in 2014 but quickly killed the project. In May, Nio said it had completed over 500,000 swaps, which gives Li confidence.
“The demand for individual car purchases is getting stronger. Even as subsidies are reduced, I believe the EV market will become healthier and more promising,” Li adds.
3. Dong Mingzhu, Chairperson, Gree Electric
Dong Mingzhu’s potential to succeed at Gree was noticed early.
Having joined the Shenzhen-based air-conditioner manufacturer in the early 1990s, she was within one month promoted to head of sales. A steady rise through the company followed and she was made company president in 2001, finally becoming chairperson of the entire Gree Group in November 2016.
Under Dong’s leadership, Gree has become the world’s largest household air-conditioning maker, as well as China’s largest household-appliance maker. She has also diversified Gree beyond its core business, investing in areas such as electric-vehicle manufacturing, solar energy and robotics. This year the company is planning to launch its own branded 5G smartphone.
Dong’s uncompromising style — she has been quoted as once saying “I never admit mistakes, and I am always correct” — has earned her a reputation as a strong leader. The New York Times called her one of the toughest businesswomen in China and she says she has never taken a day off since joining the company.
While COVID-19 will have a serious impact on Gree’s 2020 revenues, Dong is still fighting and innovating. In May, her sales instinct led her to make her debut on Chinese livestreaming platform Kuaishou. Within three hours of her appearance, the company had sold close to $44 million worth of Gree goods.
4. Won Hee Lee, President, Hyundai Motors
At the end of 2019, Hyundai Motors President and CEO Won Hee Lee announced the launch of Strategy 25, the company’s roadmap for the future. The new operating model, he says, would transform the company from an auto manufacturer into a mobility-solutions company.
The strategy is based on two core pillars: smart mobility devices and smart mobility services. For smart mobility devices, read cars — or more specifically, electric vehicles.
Smart mobility services, however, are a little more interesting. Lee says Hyundai wants to be able to offer customers a personalised mobility lifestyle, which can be anything from maintenance, repair, and financing, all the way to car sharing, online car-based services and robotaxi services.
Transformation won’t come cheap. Hyundai says it will invest over $8 billion annually in R&D and technology to smooth the transition. An early sign of the investment is the plan to open the Hyundai Mobility Global Innovation Center in Singapore. Hyundai describes the center as an open innovations lab, a test bed to explore and validate its future vision.
“The key to our future strategy is to focus on customers and to present the most desirable products and services,” Lee tells Business Insider. “Transforming into a smart mobility solution provider that combines devices and services will be the center-piece of Hyundai’s future strategy.”
5. Wang Chuanfu, Founder, BYD
The growth of BYD, originally an abbreviation of “Build Your Dreams,” since inception in 1995 has been dramatic. Within just a decade, the rechargeable-battery manufacturer founded by Wang Chuanfu at the age of 29, had captured more than half of the global mobile-phone battery market. It is a position it still holds today.
Batteries though are just one part of the BYD story. In 2002, Wang launched BYD Autos, with an emphasis on electric and hybrid vehicles. The company rode the rapid growth of the Chinese auto market from the 1990s on, as well as government-level support for the electric vehicle sector.
The BYD auto brand remains one of China’s best-selling domestic cars and is the second-largest electric car maker in the world after Tesla. Wang is now eyeing the overseas market. Earlier this year the company announced it would start expansion into Europe, launching a range of vehicles first in Norway.
“BYD is the only company in the world to develop and produce in-house all the core parts of EVs” Wang tells Business Insider. “Now, our brand’s 100% electric buses, taxis and other vehicles have spread to more than 300 cities, in more than 50 countries and regions, promising quieter, cleaner transport for future generations.”
6. Ronna Chao, Chairperson, Novetex Textiles
Under the leadership of Ronna Chao, Hong Kong-based Novetex Textiles is making big steps to tackle the issue of waste in the fashion industry.
Since joining the family-owned business in 2010, following several years working at Goldman Sachs and Tommy Hilfiger, Chao has been driving initiatives to challenge and improve industry standards. Key to this has been the development of the Billie system, a waterless method for upcycling textile waste.
To house the system, Chao opened a new facility — the first textile mill to open in Hong Kong in over half a century — which recycles fibers that are then delivered for textile production at Novetex’s plant in mainland China. The Billie system has already been recognized at numerous global innovation and sustainability awards.
Chao accepts that Novetex’s efforts are just a beginning, pointing out that its facility tackles barely 1% of the textile waste produced in Hong Kong alone.
“The Billie system provides a solution to only one part of a much larger textile waste problem. We see this as the beginning of many initiatives and innovative concepts that are set to change industry standards for the better,” she tells Business Insider.
7. Issei Takino, CEO, Mujin
Issei Takino’s company Mujin does something that would cause many an eyebrow to be raised: It helps industrial robots think for themselves.
Takino set up the company in 2011 with cofounder and CTO Rosen Diankov, a graduate from the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.
It was a complementary combination. Takino’s background in manufacturing — he worked for a while at the Warren Buffet-owned industrial manufacturer ISCAR — brought a deep understanding of the manufacturing process, which sat well with Diankov’s computer science and AI background.
Whereas most industrial robots are programmed to perform a limited set of motions, Mujin’s controllers, vision systems, and other products upgrade these capabilities. Among other things, the technology allows robots to recognize and respond to new environments, and to self-adapt motion and posture in response.
Such upgrades may seem like minor enhancements, but in the world of industrial robots, it is a significant advance. Through the Mujin technology, robots are capable of complex behaviors and movements that would be impossible to achieve, even with human programming. Or, as Takino puts it, the ability to behave a little more like humans.
8. Tom Zhu, VP, Tesla China
One of the most viral business videos of this year was undoubtedly Tesla boss Elon Musk dad-dancing at the opening of the company’s new Shanghai manufacturing plant. But while the performance made great meme material, it perhaps overshadowed something much more interesting: the importance of China to the Tesla story.
By June, China accounted for roughly 23% of Tesla’s total revenues, a big jump from close to 12% at the end of 2019. This is expected to grow even more over the next year as the Shanghai plant ramps up its vehicle production numbers.
Charged with managing that rapid growth is Tom Zhu, vice president at Tesla China.
Educated in New Zealand and the US, Zhu joined Tesla in 2014. Before taking on the China role, Zhu had an APAC leadership remit, but Tesla eventually dismantled its regional operations, emphasizing further the company’s reliance on Chinese manufacturing and sales.
While China is big on potential for Tesla, it is not without serious competition in the high-end-EV category. Zhu’s challenge will be to increase share of a market that is becoming filled by local rivals buoyed up by deep-pocketed investors.
9. Tsai (Patty) Pei-Chun, CEO, Pou Chen Group
Taiwan-based Pou Chen Group (PCG) has a customer list that is a who’s who of footwear — Nike, Adidas, Timberland, Converse, and Crocs, to name a few. The company is the world’s largest branded athletic and casual footwear manufacturer and says it can produce as many as 300 million shoes a year.
Heading up the family-owned business as CEO is Tsai Pei-Chun, aka Patty Tsai, who was just 32 when she took over the business from her father and company founder Tsai Chi-jui in 2012. PCG employs somewhere in the region of 360,000 people and has manufacturing facilities in Taiwan, mainland China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Mexico, and more.
A Wharton graduate, Tsai quickly got to work overhauling the business and addressing legacy issues within the giant corporation, bringing the company back to profit in 2018 after several years of downturn.
Shortly before the firm’s 50th anniversary last year, she began changing the old guard, retiring or reassigning the first generation of company executives and consolidating the corporate structure and company culture, in particular PCG’s reportedly paramilitary management style.
Tsai is now in full control of executive management and is continuing to modernize the group, with an emphasis on bringing in a more diverse talent pool from outside the traditional manufacturing sector.
10. Huazhi Hu, Cofounder and CEO, EHang
In March 2019, Huazhi Hu took a short taxi journey in Guangzhou, in southern China. Not just any kind of taxi. Hu’s short trip took place inside a pilotless flying taxi.
Hu took to the skies in a display of not only the growing potential of air mobility, but also a proof of concept of the flying machines, or an autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) to use the official name, that his company has created.
Hu is the cofounder and CEO of EHang, which has been developing and manufacturing AAVs since 2014. Already in use across China for survey missions, emergency response and aerial photography, the next frontier for EHang’s AAVs is passenger services.
The company had in 2017 announced plans to launch an autonomous flying-taxi service in Dubai, but plans fell through. This, however, did not deflate Hu’s ambition and EHang is currently working with a number of cities in China and overseas to develop urban air mobility solutions, including air logistics and passenger transportation.
Hu is a hands-on CEO with a passion for aviation. He is the creator and chief architect of EHang’s non-passenger AAV, the Ghost Intelligent Aerial Robot, and still remains engaged in the R&D of new products. And he is of course also willing to act as test pilot when needed.
Media and Advertising
1. Zhang Wei, CEO, Alibaba Pictures
Zhang Wei spent much of her early career helping US media giants such as Newscorp and CNBC establish operations in China. Now, however, the table has been truly turned.
As president of Alibaba Pictures and in charge of international operations and business development, Zhang is responsible for producing, coproducing, and acquiring movies for the company. Under her watch, Alibaba has been a major investor in a number of Hollywood releases, including “Star Trek Beyond,” “Green Book,” and “1917.”
Alibaba’s selling point to the Hollywood studios, though, goes well beyond just financing. It’s understanding of China’s $9 billion cinemagoing market is a huge selling point.
Alibaba is able to use its vast ecosystem to market and sell its productions in the country and ensure a deeply integrated offering.
This ranges from its extensive consumer touch points, which can be mined to predict audience tastes and behaviour, to its online platforms such as Taobao Live, which broadcasts to a potential 800 million active users, and video-streaming platform Youku. Alibaba also owns online ticketing service Taopiaopiao, which covers almost 100% of Chinese cinemas.
2. Tim Kobe, Founder, Eight Inc.
As founder of Eight Inc., Tim Kobe’s legacy is well established. Hired by Steve Jobs to design the first Apple retail store, Kobe is rightly credited as a design pioneer. Now based out of Singapore, he is working with Asian companies to integrate design experience into their business operations.
At the center of Kobe’s approach is the power of design to change how people think, feel, and act. Kobe stresses he doesn’t design for “consumers” or “users” but for humans, complete with their complex emotions and desires.
This philosophy is reflected in his firm’s recent work in China. A museum-like immersive showroom for automotive startup Weltmeister. An offline store for online car dealer Guazi. A flagship gym experience for digital fitness startup Keep. Kobe is changing how many Asian company’s think about design.
“There are no shortages of opportunities for designs to improve the lives of people and how we interact, impact, and improve our relationships with one another in our environment,” Kobe tells Business Insider. “I believe in an approach to living and creating successful outcomes for people. The act of creating value is fundamental to what design should be able to oﬀer.”
3. Gary Liu, CEO, SCMP
Gary Liu’s appointment to CEO of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) at the beginning of 2017 has seen the 116-year-old newspaper accelerate its digital transformation.
Liu’s hire was certainly an indicator of the direction SCMP wanted to move toward, following its purchase by Chinese tech giant Alibaba in 2016. A digital media veteran, Liu was the former chief executive of New York-based news aggregator Digg, and before that worked at Spotify Labs.
Since Liu’s arrival, the SCMP has made a determined shift from legacy publisher to digital innovator. A revamped website, alongside a number of new vertical online platforms have re-energised the publisher.
In July, Liu announced the SCMP’s new digital subscription service for its estimated 50 million readers — an intriguing development considering that the first thing Alibaba did when it acquired the newspaper was to pull down the existing paywall.
“Although the purpose and ethics of news should never change, journalism as a ‘product’ must evolve to meet the needs of today’s user,” Liu tells Business Insider. “This has not been an easy journey nor is it complete; the digitization of a news business is far more than technology and data. It requires the transformation of culture and mindset, and the elevation of an entire workforce to move with speed, agility, and creativity.”
4. Ian McKee, CEO, Vuulr
Ian McKee’s vision when founding online content marketplace Vuulr in 2017 was to create what he calls a new global broadcast content economy.
In short, bringing content buyers, sellers, and brands together on one online platform.
Vuulr is cutting the costs, time, and complexity of film and television-content deals. McKee points out that up to 40% of the $240 billion spent on content acquisitions annually is lost to the cost and friction of transactions.
“I am passionate about democratizing the access to distribution for all filmmakers and content creators,” McKee tells Business Insider. “About reducing the time it takes to do a deal from months to days, and slashing the cost of doing a deal.”
The platform is free to use, for both buyers and sellers. All offers and negotiations are completed online, and Vuulr charges a commission on successful sales. McKee says the company is streamlining the purchase process, with deals on average taking just over eight days, compared to three to six months in the traditional physical market.
McKee launched Vuulr in 2017, marking his second large-scale entrepreneurial venture. He was previously the founder and CEO of social-media marketing firm Vocanic.
“We are fortunate that the current climate has meant that Vuulr has exactly the product, at the right time for the industry especially now that the future of entertainment is as an internet delivered product,” McKee adds.
5. Ken Suzuki, Founder and CEO, Smart News
Ken Suzuki cofounded news aggregator SmartNews in 2011 as a way for users to navigate their way through the growing mass of daily online content to find the news they want.
While hardly a revolutionary concept — Flipboard performs roughly the same function — SmartNews’ personalized curation, fueled by machine learning, has been a hit with users.
Initially launched for the Japanese market, the app has more recently broken into the US market, partnering with publishers in over 6,000 US cities in the past year. SmartNews now has 20 million monthly active users in Japan and the US and is growing at a rate of 500% annually. Last year the company closed off a Series E $92 million round of funding, valuing the company at $1.2 billion.
SmartNews aside, Suzuki has interests in a number of startups, including crowdfunding website CAMPFIRE and US-based flexible living platform marketplace Anyplace. He has also founded the SmartNews Fellowship to provide support to young reporters and local media stations.
6. Lilly Yip, Head of Marketing, PepsiCo Greater China
One of the biggest marketing challenges for PepsiCo in China, similar to that for most foreign B2C businesses, is to as much as possible be adopted by consumers as a local brand.
This is a challenge that Lilly Yip, who heads up PepsiCo’s beverage marketing in China, has responded to with gusto. While PepsiCo may concede market dominance to arch-rival Coke, its bond with Chinese consumers is unmistakable.
A big reason for this has been PepsiCo’s annual, multi-brand ‘Bring Happiness Home’ Chinese New Year campaign platform, which consistently manages to not only mine Chinese culture for inspiration, but also to tap into the collective memories of the country’s consumers.
An extension of this was seen in the brand’s ‘Everyday Heroes’ campaign, released at the height of COVID-19 lockdowns earlier this year. Pepsi took a subject matter close to the hearts of all Chinese – ordinary workers providing for the community during the pandemic – and created new can packaging, wrapped it in an innovative, retro-inspired design aesthetic.
The end result was more than just another ad campaign. Yip created something that was iconic, collectable and memorable and once again out Pepsi in the hearts of Chinese consumers.
“If anything that we want to transform, it is the purposeful brand building in China/Asia.
As one of the big international companies, we’ve been growing with the local communities. We leverage our brand power to promote local culture and support young talents,” Yip told Business insider.
7. Yumi Ishikawa, Writer and Activist, Model
Yumi Ishikawa caused a stir in Japan last year when she launched an online petition to prohibit employers from forcing women to wear high heel shoes in the workplace.
The attention the campaign created led to her founding the #KuToo movement (a play on #MeToo and the Japanese words for shoe and pain), which in no time put her at the forefront of women’s rights in Japan.
Ishikawa is an accidental activist. It all began with a post on her Twitter account last year, motivated by the 7cm heels she was mandated to wear during her eight-hour shifts she was working as an usher in a funeral parlor. The tweet went viral and very soon #KuToo was a part of the national conversation around sexual discrimination.
The response to #KuToo has been mixed. On a personal level, Ishikawa has received much negative online feedback, much of that focused on her previous career as a bikini model.
More positively, a small but growing number of companies – including her previous employer at the funeral parlor – are abandoning stipulations on high heels.
“I started #KuToo because I had something to share with society and my message went through,” Ishikawa told Japan Today. “The movement could get going thanks to everyone’s efforts. This is proof that we collectively need to talk about this issue.”
8. Chatri Sityodtong, CEO and Chairperson, ONE Championship
Chatri Sityodtong wanted to build a mixed martial arts (MMA) platform that was grounded in what he saw as Asian fighting values: integrity, honour, discipline, courage, compassion, humility and respect. The result was One Championship, established in 2011 and now the largest sports media property in Asia.
As founder, CEO and chief spokesperson, Sityodtong has integrated his own experiences into the One Championship brand story.
Born and raised in Thailand, his family lost their home and life savings through bankruptcy, compelling Sityodtong to overcome hardship on his journey to eventually receive an MBA at Harvard and become an entrepreneur. This resilience, he believes, is central to his company’s mission.
“Every region of the world has several multibillion dollar sports media properties such as NBA and NFL in the US or EPL and F1 in Europe. At the time, Asia had nothing. I saw an opportunity to create Asia’s first global sports media property,” he told Business Insider. “Through the magic of our real-life superheroes and the power of storytelling, we are on a mission to ignite hope, celebrate values, create dreams, inspire nations, and change the world.”
Sityodtong is now looking at ways to diversify the One brand. Last year he unveiled his newest media venture with the launch of One Esports, a joint venture with Japanese media giant Dentsu. The company has since announced it will operate Asia’s largest esports world championship – the Dota 2 World Pro Invitationals.
9. Steve Tsoi, VP Marketing for Nike China
The reasons for Nike’s continued success in China are multi-faceted, but a significant chunk of the brand’s popularity is thanks to its powerful marketing, led by 19-year Nike veteran Steve Tsoi.
Nike is inching ahead of the competition in China. The company in 2019 had roughly 23% of the market, ahead of global rival Adidas at just under 20%. But where Nike takes a much bigger lead is in its ability to resonate with local consumers through advertising.
A case in point was the release of Nike’s first-ever Chinese New Year campaign in January this year. The ad – featuring a young woman attempting to run away from her Aunt’s efforts to give her a red envelope of money – combined cultural awareness, humour and Nike’s usual high production values, and was a major hit with audiences.
This ability to not only respond to cultural insights but also to become part of the culture itself – steered by Tsoi in partnership with his creative agencies – has now become a major differentiator for Nike in China’s saturated sports market.
10. Celeste Barber, Actress and Fundraiser
Celeste Barber is a lady of many talents – acting, comedy and writing to name a few. But it was her fundraising efforts during Australia’s devastating bushfire season at the turn of the year that catapulted her into a global news story.
Barber’s fundraising began with a modest aim of raising just over US$10,000 for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. Eventually, the Facebook fundraiser would take in over US$37 million, the largest sum ever raised through the social media platform. It was also a campaign that resonated well outside of Australia – according to Facebook, over 1.2 million people from 75 countries had donated.
Unfortunately, the unexpectedly large amount raised has led to legal issues on how the money can be distributed, with the courts still working toward a solution. But this in no way diminishes Barber’s incredible achievement.
Fundraising aside, Barber has appeared in several Australian TV shows, is a comedy festival regular and has written two books.
1. Ravish Naresh, Cofounder and CEO, Khatabook
Ravish Naresh spotted a gap in India’s retail market: While many small businesses were using mobile technology in most aspects of their lives, they still deferred to traditional pen and paper for their business bookkeeping.
The response from Naresh and his team was to create an app that can help bring these merchants into the digital age.
Established less than two years ago, Khatabook now has an active user base of 8 million small businesses in India. Naresh says the app is used in 4,000 cities and towns and supports 11 local languages. Earlier this year, the startup raised $60 million in a new financing round and is now valued at an estimated $300 million.
Khatabook’s strength is its accessibility. The app uses features and UX, which mimic apps that the target audience may be more familiar with, such as WhatsApp, making bookkeeping a simple process, regardless of digital literacy levels.
“Khatabook is unlocking real money, and it’s often a significant portion of annual incomes,” Naresh tells Business Insider. “The time saved versus manual calculations is up to two hours per day per merchant. That time can now be spent on business or with family, and that’s invaluable.”
2. William Tanuwijaya, Founder and CEO, Tokopedia
Tokopedia’s mission of using technology to make retail accessible to all appears to be paying off. By July, the Indonesian e-commerce company, cofounded and led by William Tanuwijaya, had more than 8 million small and midsize businesses on the platform, most of which were first-time entrepreneurs.
In large part Tokopedia’s success has been due to its understanding of localized needs. For example, Indonesia’s large population was very much cash-based and wary of online payments.
To counter this, Tokopedia became the first domestic tech company to introduce an escrow payment method. The company has also established payment points in up to 500,000 minimarkets across the country’s vast geography.
Tanuwijaya began his own entrepreneurial journey in 2009 when he launched Tokopedia to the Indonesian market. His idea was to level the playing field for all commerce stakeholders, including merchants, customers and anybody looking to set up their own business.
“Today we’re evolving to become a super ecosystem to further achieve our mission of democratizing commerce through technology in Indonesia,” Tanuwijaya tells Business Insider. “This vision connects buyers, sellers, and partners in the platform, helping them create opportunities and achieve more.”
3. Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO, Rakuten
Rakuten began life in 1997 as a small online marketplace with 13 shops and six employees. Today it has 1 billion members and is active in 29 countries and regions, a testament to the pioneering efforts of founder and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani.
In the past two decades, Rakuten has grown well beyond its e-commerce roots, reflecting perhaps the eclectic interests of its owner. The company today has interests in gaming, publishing, fintech, online video, and more, supported by an aggressive acquisition strategy to fuel its global expansion.
Over the past 12 months, however, indications are that Mikitani’s sights are shifting. Earlier this year, Rakuten sold $1.4 billion worth of shares in its tech holdings, including its entire stake in Pinterest, which followed an earlier write-down of its stake in Lyft.
Mobile appears to be the new area of opportunity for Mikitani and Rakuten. In July, Rakuten Mobile officially announced its new international headquarters in Singapore, just one year after becoming the first new mobile network operator in Japan in over a decade. The hub is expected to be the global hub for the Rakuten Communications Platform, a fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile platform.
“We are transforming the mobile industry with the world’s first cloud-native, fully virtualized mobile network, something that mobile carriers and network engineers around the world have dreamt about,” Mikitani tells Business Insider. “It’s not overstating it to say that this is the Apollo program of the mobile network industry.”
4. Belinda Wong, Chairperson and CEO, Starbucks China
Belinda Wong oversees Starbucks’ fastest-growing and most strategic market.
It operates 4,100 stores in 160 Chinese cities and is expected to expand this to 6,000 stores in 230 cities by the end of its 2022 financial year. Under Wong’s leadership, the company claims to be opening a new store in China every 16 hours.
Its pace of innovation and growth in China is faster than anywhere in the world, operating at what Wong calls “China speed.” In 2017 the company chose Shanghai to open the first international Starbucks Reserve Roastery. The store acts as an innovation incubator, pioneering concepts such as its first all-day dining and first full bar experience, Bar Mixato.
Wong is also the architect behind Starbucks’ partnership with Alibaba Group to collaborate across key businesses within the Alibaba ecosystem, including Ele.me, Hema, Tmall, Taobao, and Alipay. The partnership paved the way for the launch of Starbucks Delivers in October 2018, and last year expanded to cover over 3,000 stores in 100 cities.
“In China we see firsthand the power of integrating physical and digital touchpoints to meet customers’ need for convenience. Together with innovation, Starbucks is committed to using our scale for good in the communities we serve, leading with our Mission and Values to deepen connections with our partners (employees) and customers,” Wong says.
5. Terence Pang, COO at Shopee
Shopee COO Terence Pang is clear about how the company has built its user base within Southeast Asia’s crowded e-commerce market: a clear understanding of local consumer behavior.
“Shopee has captured the hearts and minds of shoppers, sellers and brands, through a strong understanding of the region and well-executed localised strategies,” he told Business Insider.
Shopee began in 2015, first exclusively as a mobile app, betting strongly on the region’s preference for mobile communications. The gamble paid off. Today, mobile is the dominant channel for Southeast Asian consumers and Pang points out that over 95% of Shopee orders are now made on mobile.
Pang, who is responsible for overseeing Shopee’s overall business operations across the region, also realized early that people wanted to do more than just shop on the platform.
He has been leading Shopee’s integrated platform, introducing innovative features to encourage greater engagement and social interaction. These include in-app games, social feeds, live streaming and a live chat that allows potential buyers to speak with sellers directly.
“Building on this foundation, we will continue to invest in and innovate for our region, to provide unique experiences for our users and help more businesses to digitalise,” Pang added.
6. Pier Luigi Sigismondi, President at Dole Packaged Foods
Although only at Dole Packaged Foods for just over a year, Pier Luigi Sigismondi is already playing a leading role in bringing the company into a new sustainable and purpose-led future.
In June this year, Dole launched its ‘Dole Promise’ in the region. Among other things, the company is committed to zero fruit loss by 2025, reduced carbon emissions and working to remove plastic packaging from the supply chain.
Dole says the promise draws on the Japanese philosophy of Sampo Yoshi, which views the well-being of business and society as being interdependent.
Sigismondi, who joined Dole as global president based out of Singapore in April last year, believes sustainability in the retail industry depends on knocking down silos and being open to new collaborations throughout the supply chain, from farm to table.
“The world has moved in a new direction with new technologies driven by venture capital funds and startups, and we should be leveraging this.” Sigismondi told Business Insider. “Our challenge is to create a model where we can connect our different partnerships all together in an ecosystem where people, planet and prosperity work together and not at the cost of each other.”
7. Joey Wat, CEO at Yum China
KFC was famously the first Western fast-food company to open in China, opening its ground-breaking outlet in 1987.
By the time Joey Wat joined the company as president of KFC China in 2014, however, the company’s pioneering streak was waning. In particular, the global chain was falling behind in a country where online was already defining the new retail experience.
Wat’s immediate response was to upgrade the firm’s digital capabilities to match consumer behavior. For instance, in 2015 she introduced the first digital payment process. By 2019, over 80% of online and offline purchases at KFC were cashless.
In 2018, Wat became CEO of KFC’s parent brand Yum China, expanding her portfolio to include Pizzahut and Taco Bell among others. The company now has more than 9000 stores and employs over 450,000 people across every province and autonomous region of China.
Maintaining consistent innovation at this scale is daunting, but Wat is not fazed. Despite the impact of COVID-19 on business operations, she is still excited by the long-term growth potential of China’s retail food sector.
“The impact of the pandemic will however leave a legacy of the increased importance of delivery and takeaway,” she told Business Insider. “Key to growth will be digital capabilities and utilizing both online and offline platforms to attract and retain customers”.
8. Adrian Cheng, Founder at K-11
Opening another shopping mall in Hong Kong may not appear the most transformational of business strategies, but then retail brand K11, is not like other malls.
Whereas most shopping malls understandably focus almost exclusively on the retail experience, the vision of K11 founder Adrien Cheng has been to create a destination for art, culture, design and, of course, commerce. A place where luxury brands will share space with a permanent art collection.
Cheng is also firmly targeting Asian millennials as the future “super consumers” who are driving retail spending while also demanding a more fulfilling shopping experience.
Last year Cheng completed the opening of Victoria Dockside in a prestigious Kowloon waterfront location. Alongside the K11 Musea retail and arts center, the project includes service apartments, offices and a luxury hotel. In total, the build involved participation of over 100 international and local architects and designers.
Victoria Dockside is the second K11-branded complex in the city. Cheng’s previous shopping center – the K11 Art Mall – opened in 2009.
“We expect K11 MUSEA will be Hong Kong and Asia’s new cultural destination, where global millennials can come together to discover, or rediscover, their muse,” Cheng told Business Insider.
9. Joanne Taylor, Executive General Manager, Convenience Retail, Caltex Australia
Joanna Taylor’s appointment to lead service station Ampol’s (formerly Caltex) retail turnaround in Australia raised a few eyebrows among industry observers.
At an earnings’ call in August last year, investors questioned not only the new retail strategy, but also Taylor’s role in driving the new strategy. She had previously run the Ampol people function.
Taylor for her part said that the criticism was understandable, given the amount of change the company had undergone in a short time, but this has not stopped her efforts to evolve the Ampol retail model and implement the strategy to expand its network of service stations into upmarket convenience stores.
In November last year, Ampol partnered with retail giant Woolworths to open 250 co-branded stores at Ampol sites. In the same month, the company announced a collaboration with UberEats to deliver products from 300 stores nationally. Taylor said at the time that the move was a natural extension of the brand’s push to deliver more convenience for customers.
“We are seeing an ongoing shift to convenience across the retail sector and our strategy is about leveraging our market leading position in fuel, innovative formats, high quality products and technology to provide consumers with more reasons to choose Ampol,” Taylor told Business Insider.
10. Miranda Qu, Cofounder at Xiaohongshu
In hindsight, building a business around shopping was inevitable for Miranda Qu. While visiting the US while on a break from her journalism studies, she met her business partner and Xiaohongshu co-founder Charlwin Mao in a shopping mall.
Shanghai-based Xiaohongshu, or RED as it is known outside of China, is an e-commerce website with a difference. Of its over 300 million registered users, the company says 70% were born after 1990, while 80% are female.
The company has a current valuation in the region of US$5 billion and has some serious tech and retail investors, including Tencent and Alibaba.
The appeal of the website to a younger and female demographic lies partly in its functionality as one part e-commerce and one part social. The site has a focus on fashion and beauty, in particular those items that are difficult to find in China.
As well as being able to buy products, Xiaohongshu also allows users to post reviews, blogs and even create their own lifestyle stories. Its ability to build communities of shoppers, as well as its reliance on trusted, word of mouth advertising, has made it a huge hit with young, urban females.
1. Tan Hooi Ling, Founder and COO, Grab
While less public facing than her cofounder, Tan Hooi Ling’s contributions as a codriver of Asia Pacific’s first decacorn Grab are no less impressive.
Tan started the company in her native Malaysia in 2012 alongside former Harvard classmate Anthony Tan. At the time she was working full time with Salesforce in the US while helping build Grab during her vacations. She returned home in 2015.
Although Grab began life as a ride-hailing service, it has since expanded into food, package, and grocery deliveries. The company recently announced it would expand its financial services offering through a number of new consumer products, including loans, micro investments, and health insurance.
Grab is now considered the region’s most valuable startup, with a 2019 valuation of $14 billion.
“It has been humbling to witness Grab’s journey from a ride-hailing service to an everyday app,” Tan tells Business Insider. “We now offer the widest range of on-demand transport, food and package delivery, and financial services in Southeast Asia, all in one app. We will continue to help create safer, smarter, and financially inclusive cities and economies that improve the lives of all Southeast Asians.”
2. Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, Founder, Vietjet
As Vietnam’s first female self-made billionaire, Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao is used to doing things differently.
Vietjet Air, the low-cost airline she launched in 2011, made a splash early on for using bikini-clad flight attendants in its advertising. The marketing gimmick created global attention and helped sell tickets, but it overshadowed Nguyen’s achievements in building an airline now larger than the national carrier, Vietnam Airlines.
Vietjet has helped spark a demand for air travel in Vietnam, where flying has traditionally been seen as something only for the rich. The airline now serves 17 cities and towns in Vietnam, as well as 23 international destinations, primarily in Southeast Asia and southern China.
The aggressive expansion has paid off. At the beginning of this year, company shares had doubled in value since its 2017 listing on the Ho Chi Minh exchange. And while the pandemic has been a blow to the aviation industry, VietJet’s financials have so far been resilient.
Once international flights resume, Thao hopes to continue her longer-term aim of making VietJet Vietnam’s first truly global airline, expanding into Europe and North America.
“With our competitiveness in services, airplanes, management capacity, cost, and ability to provide new services, I am completely confident that we can compete in others’ markets,” Nguyen told Forbes.
3. Spencer Fung, Group CEO, Li & Fung
When Spencer Fung joined the family-owned trading and logistics business Li & Fung in 2014, he was taking over a company for which many of his more traditional customers were experiencing the double hit of the rise of e-commerce and a weakening of the global sourcing market.
Fung’s response was to set out a clear objective for the 114-year-old company.
“Li & Fung’s vision is to create the supply chain of the future and to improve the lives of a billion people,” Fung tells Business Insider. “A diversified global network in 50-plus countries and a digital supply chain will help retailers mitigate risk, gain speed and transparency, and become more resilient to the ever-changing geopolitical landscape.”
That would be no easy task for a company that has over 250 offices in 40 markets and legacy operations that date back over a century. In 2019, Fung outlined his three-year plan to transform the business by focusing on three key elements: speed, innovation, and digitization.
As part of his long-term restructuring plans, Fung teamed up with Singapore-based GLP in May this year to buy back all publicly traded shares of the company. While the move disappointed many dividend-reliant small investors, Fung believes it will help the company adopt a less risk-averse strategy.
4. Pang Mei Yee, Head of Asia Pacific, Global Practice Lead for Supply Chain, DHL
Pang Mei Yee has been a champion for innovation in the logistics sector.
In 2015, she set up DHL’s first innovation center in Asia Pacific with the aim of driving investment in new technologies and business models throughout the logistics ecosystem. Now leading the company’s consulting arm, she is continuing to push for change.
Over the past year alone, Pang has led a major blockchain POC project with a leading European auto-maker, deployed DHL Express’s first-ever automated guided vehicles in its South Asia hub and implemented an AI-driven temperature-management system in DHL Supply Chain’s Advance Regional Center in Singapore.
Pang, who has over 15 years of experience within DHL, recently shifted into a new role as head of DHL Consulting, a division she worked in before 2015. Her arrival comes with a healthy track record. When Pang was last there, she doubled the business by introducing an entirely new service portfolio.
“In an ever-evolving sector such as logistics,” Pang told Business Insider, “the most important factors that influence transformation at DHL are our customer-centric approach that pushes problem-solving ingenuity, and our incredible employees who have the right tools and attitude to embrace change, ideate innovative solutions and advance digitalization.”
5. Lee Seow Hiang, CEO, Changi Airport
Singapore’s Changi Airport has achieved something unique in the world of aviation. It has managed to turn itself into a leisure and shopping destination, almost as popular as the ones it helps people fly to.
Under the leadership of Changi Airport Group CEO Lee Seow Hiang, a career aviation specialist, the airport has expanded in size and ambition. Last year, Changi was named the world’s best airport at the World Airport Awards. This was the seventh consecutive year the airport had won this accolade and capped off a year that had seen the company stretch the boundaries of what defines an airport.
In 2019 Changi’s operations went through a major transformation with the opening of Jewel Changi Airport, a nature-themed entertainment, and shopping complex. Jewel is home to the world’s largest indoor waterfall, an indoor garden, a 75-foot-high canopy bridge, a hotel, cinema, and 300 retail and dining outlets.
By October 2019, six months after its soft opening, it had received 50 million visitors, almost double its target.
6. Sophie Kim, Founder and CEO, Kurly
An obsession with fresh food has led one tech entrepreneur to the creation of a business that’s disrupted the Korean grocery sector and now has an estimated value of almost $800 million.
Kurly — more commonly known as Market Kurly — was founded in 2015 by former Goldman Sachs and Temasek analyst Sophie Kim. In April, the grocery delivery startup secured $150 million in new financing, bringing total funding to date to $346 million.
Kurly operates by providing an alternative grocery source to regular retail stores. Unlike some of its counterparts in the region, Kurly does not compete on discounts but on convenience. Orders can be placed as late as 11 p.m. with a guarantee that orders will reach customer doorsteps by 7 the next morning.
The emphasis on high-quality foods has made the service popular with high-income users. And while COVID-19 has negatively affected many businesses, Kurly has become an even more popular choice for people choosing to spend more time at home.
The app’s popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed by the competition. Online shopping platform SSG.com last year launched its own overnight delivery service, while e-commerce giant Coupang debuted its same-day delivery option in April.
7. Wang Xing, Founder, Meituan-Dianping
While the likes of Alibaba and Tencent dominate conversations about China’s tech giants, Meituan Dianping is one of a number of companies that are less well known but equally attractive for both investors and end users.
With close to $14 billion in revenue in 2019 and a market cap of $140 billion, Meituan is already a key player in China’s online market. The company was the brainchild of founder Wang Xing, a serial tech entrepreneur who had varying success with a number of startups in the 2000s, including the Chinese version of Facebook, Xiaonei (later rebranded as RenRen).
Wang eventually landed on Meituan, a group-buying website modelled on GroupOn, which he set up in 2010 and merged with restaurant review and booking site Dianping two years later.
Although many of Wang’s ventures clearly took a healthy dose of inspiration from similar US-based ventures, his success with Meituan hinged on the strategic transition from app to super app, consolidating group buying with delivery across a range of food, travel, and retail verticals. Today Meituan Dianping is best described as a cross between GroupOn, Yelp, Trip Advisor, and UberEats, among others.
On a recent earnings call, Wang said the company would continue to provide better experiences to consumers and merchants. “While the digitization of the entire industry value chain is still at an early stage, we’ll be an important promoter, leader, and long-term beneficiary of this trend,” he said.
8. Tony Fernandes, CEO and Cofounder, AirAsia
AirAsia, the budget flyer founded by Tony Fernandes, has been disrupting Asia’s skies since it began operations in 1996, with no shortage of success. The Malaysian company was last year named the world’s best low-cost airline at the World Airline Awards, the 11th consecutive year it picked up the award.
Known as a global industry innovator, Fernandes has more recently been focused on expanding AirAsia’s businesses into new areas.
One such move has been to transform Teleport, its cargo and logistics division, into a major Southeast Asian e-commerce transportation provider. Teleport’s growth during the recent downturn in air travel has been one of the silver linings of the pandemic for the AirAsia Group, growing 49% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2020.
Because of the nearly full-on hibernation of the airline group since late March, Teleport this year pivoted from delivering cross-border e-commerce provisions to last-mile deliveries, transporting more parcels, restaurant orders, as well as fresh produce during the lockdown period than in the previous 12 months collectively.
“I have always believed that you have to keep renewing yourself and evolve to meet changing consumer demand,” Fernandes tells Business Insider. “You are only ever as good as tomorrow. We are taking travel to another level, not only in the air but also on the ground, by giving our customers a truly integrated end-to-end experience.”
9. Diana Chou, Founder and Chairperson, Dragon General Aviation Group
As the daughter of the Hong Kong magnate who founded carrier Dragonair (now rebranded as Cathay Dragon), it’s not too surprising that Diana Chou found her calling in aviation.
The founder and chairperson of Dragon General Aviation Group, Chou was the first female to sell private jets in Asia (her first sale took two years to complete), and in the 20 years since then has helped shape the development of the private aircraft sales and leasing business in the region.
Much of the boom in private aircraft sales has come from China, where Chou pioneered the sale of private helicopters through her subsidiary Aerochine Aviation. It is also China where Chou sees much of the future growth coming from, although perhaps not necessarily from traditional aircraft.
Chou says she’s also looking to expand her business focus and invest in more disruptive businesses in the region, in particular autonomous aerial vehicles (AAV) and the emergence of air taxi services.
And despite the effects COVID-19 has had on the aviation industry, Chou remains optimistic.
“As entrepreneurs we have to be resilient and adaptable to challenges,” Chou tells Business Insider. “Struggles redefine us as leaders. If we stay positive and passionate, we will triumph and soar.”
10. Ichiro Kawanabe, President and CEO, JapanTaxi
Although ride-hailing services are technically illegal in Japan, it isn’t stopping innovation in the sector, with one company leading the way, JapanTaxi, led by president and CEO Ichiro Kawanabe.
For the likes of Uber and other global ride-hailing apps, Japan has so far been a nonstarter. Using civilian cars for rides is illegal, which means the only way such a business can operate is through licensed taxi services.
In July, Uber announced it was partnering with three taxi companies in Tokyo. Another player in the market, Sony’s taxi-hailing service S.Ride, launched in mid-2019.
First-mover advantage, however, sits firmly with JapanTaxi. Kawanabe set up JapanTaxi in 2011. The company now claims to have more than 60,000 taxi drivers from across Japan on its platform. For comparison, Uber will have 600 taxis available at launch and will be limited to downtown Tokyo.
Kawanabe is also helped by the fact that he’s the owner of Nihon Kotsu, the country’s largest taxi operator, and head of the Japanese taxi federation.
In these roles, Kawanabe has earned a reputation for innovation. Previously, he introduced dedicated taxis for pregnant women and parents with small children, as well as accelerating the acceptance of more diverse ride payment methods through the JapanTaxi Wallet.
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