15 Chinese Big Shots To Watch Right Now

Zhang Xin

Photo: www.forbes.com

There’s a reason you’ve been hearing about China non-stop this year. The Middle Kingdom has spawned the world’s two largest IPO’s to date. They’re still spending in a recession that has Americans clinging to our Yankee pocket money. And they’re now making headway into the sectors that America once claimed to dominate.Yet most Americans can’t name more than a few Chinese, including Yao Ming and Jackie China.

It’s time to get to know the Chinese CEOs that will dominate the next decade.

The Buffett Protégé: Wang Chuan-Fu

Role: CEO of BYD (Maker of Batteries and Automobiles)

The Quick and Dirty: Wang heads up the world's largest maker of mobile phone batteries - now a firm also making waves in the automobile industry for its mission to create the world's first electric car line. In late 2008, BYD made available to the public the world's first mass-produced, plug-in hybrid vehicle - the BYD F3 DM reputed to be cheaper than Toyota's Prius.

Why You Should Watch Him Now: Because Warren Buffett believes in this guy. The investment tycoon invested $230M in BYD in 2008 per the advice of Berkshire Hathaway's right hand man, Charlie Munger. Amongst other accolades, Munger noted that the BYD CEO is 'a combination of Thomas Edison and Jack Welch - something like Edison in solving technical problems and something like Welch in getting done what he needs to do.' And while Detroit's Big Three continue their long climb back from financial purgatory and Toyota attempts to convince the world that really, their cars are still safe, BYD's attempting to one-up them all with an aggressive regimen for international expansion.

The Daddy's Girl: Yang Huiyan

Role: Majority Stakeholder of Country Garden Holdings (Guangdong Real Estate developer)

The Quick and Dirty: Back in 2007, Yang was named China's richest woman at the tender age of 26 after receiving a 58% stake in Country Garden (her dad is its main founder). And while the firm's Commander-in-Chief is still Dad, we hear Yang is heading up its procurement and resource strategies divisions. Yang received a degree in marketing and logistics from Ohio State University prior to joining the family business in 2005.

Why You Should Watch Her Now: Because she's 28 and sitting atop billions in capital. In a country where first generation wealth proliferates and entrepreneurs are a dime a dozen, it's odd that China's richest woman inherited her billions (and claim to fame) the ancestral way. But no matter. While her net worth is still shy of Zuckerberg's $4B, if Country Garden can weather the volatile real estate markets in China, this heiress may yet come out on top of the wealth race.

The Web 2.0 Free Rider: Ma Huateng

Role: Co-Founder and CEO of Tencent Holdings Limited (Provider of Instant Messenger QQ)

The Quick and Dirty: Tencent operates QQ, the most popular instant messaging platform in China (currently has 450 million active users). A self-declared 'copycat', Ma modelled his own start-up product after the likes of ICQ, the world's first internet-wide instant messaging service (later acquired by AOL). He has since launched ventures in online gaming and e-commerce and is considered the 60-pound gorilla China's internet market.

Why You Should Watch Him Now: As Google struggles to take a bigger bite of China's netizen population and other giants like Yahoo! and eBay battle an unspoken culture barrier that has prevented their products from catching on with the Chinese, QQ is poised to continue its takeover of this 384 million user market. In other words, he's the man to beat at the moment.

The Subway Guy: Liu Zhongtian

Role: Founder and Chairman of China Zhongwang Holdings (Metal Processor Business)

The Quick and Dirty: Liu currently helms one of Asia's largest aluminium products manufacturers. Why does this matter? Because the aluminium Liu churns out of his factories is used by railroads, subways, and car makers.

Why You Should Watch Him Now: Liu propelled China Zhongwang to a record IPO in May of 2009 (although a report did apparently claim that the firm's Top 10 customers listed on the offering prospectus were falsified). Despite the speculation still swirling around the authenticity of Liu's bookkeeping, the fact still stands that he's riding the waves of an immensely profitable enterprise with real prospects even in this global recession. China's currently throwing money at infrastructure ventures right now - high-speed railways, subway expansions, and airline construction. As demand for these services rise, Liu's products will also remain coveted for the time being.

The Yuppie Caterer: Zhou Chengjian

Role: President of Metersbonwe Group (Apparel Retailer)

The Quick and Dirty: Zhou, who used to tailor on the side for petty cash, opened the first Metersbonwe store in 1995. It is now the leading casual wear retailer in China with over 1,800 store locations and a loyal customer base of teens and young adults. In 2008, Zhou launched a second chain brand, Me&City, targeting an older crowd of consumers.

Why You Should Watch Him Now: Because China's consumers aren't easing up spending anytime soon, which should come as a huge relief to a global economy that's been uptight with its spending wallet since 2008. Besides, this is the guy did his fair bit to propel the sartorial and materialistic aspirations of a generation's worth of Asian yuppies.

The Guy Who's Bringing Down Google: Robin Li

Role: Co-Founder of Baidu Inc. (Search Engine)

The Quick and Dirty: After co-founding Baidu in 2000, Li saw the Chinese Internet giant through a successful IPO that raised $109 million and saw the firm's shares trade at nearly 4 TIMES its final IPO price at the end of its first trading day. And the money keeps rolling in - Baidu saw a 48% rise in its 2009 4th quarter profit and its stock has shot up 281% in the past 12 months. Not bad for someone who used to sit at an Infoseek cubicle as another Silicon Valley underling hoping for his next big break.

Why You Should Watch Him Now: Because Google's losing its grip on Chinese netizens, something Li will no doubt capitalise upon in the next few years. Within the last 3 months, Google's already lost nearly 5% of the internet market share on the Mainland while Baidu's piece of th pie has risen to high and mighty 64%. And while Schmidt may be duking it out with the CCP over cyberspace and in the boardroom, Li is quietly moving ahead with plans to capture what may grow to be an 840 million Chinese net audience by 2013.

The Goldman Alum: Zhang Xin

Role: Founder and CEO of SOHO China (Real Estate Developer)

The Quick and Dirty: Zhang heads up Beijing's largest real estate developer in Beijing, along with her husband, Pan Shiyi (who also blogs). Collectively, the two are dubbed by press to be the It-couple of Beijing, and their transformation of the city's once Hutong-dominated architectural landscape has been nothing short of showstopping. A former Goldman Sachs employee who spent her teenhood in Hong Kong and received her graduate degree in Development Economics from Cambridge University, Zhang is yet another Chinese national to migrate back home after years abroad getting some serious business chops.

Why You Should Watch Her Now: Because she's the current queen of Beijing's real estate scene with 1.75 million square meters of Beijing in her development portfolio. 15 years after founding SOHO China, Zhang and her husband took the company public in 2007 and raised nearly $1.65 billion on the Hong Kong stock exchange. And it's all thanks to a business model that caters to Beijing's growing horde of urbanites -- the creation of spaces that function both as a home and an office setting.

The One Who's Got Style: Chen Yihong

Role: Founder of China Dongxiang Group (Retail - Sporting Goods)

The Quick and Dirty: Having started China Dongxiang in 2004 (its main brand being Kappa), Chen now mans a sporting franchise that rivals Nike in market share and brand respectability. Fun fact - this guy apparently won Bazaar Man's Style's '2008 Stylish and Successful Leaders' Award, presumably on account of his business prowess than the patterning of his ties.

Why You Should Watch Him Now: Because investors are taking note (read: have their eyes peeled) on this retail whiz. When China Dongxiang issued its $702 million IPO in 2007, investors reportedly generated offers for 124x the number of shares initially offered in the deal.

The Original Dragon Lady: Yan Cheung

Role: Founder and Chairwoman of Nine Dragons Paper Ltd. (Paper Products Firm)

The Quick and Dirty: Who knew that producing packing paper (yes, that carton last night's curry takeout came in) could become a business with a $51.4 billion market cap? Yan Cheung, daughter of a Chinese army officer and winner of a 'Worldwide Chinese Ambassador of Love' title, founded Nine Dragons in 1995 with $4,000 (she didn't even have business cards, instead carrying around introduction letters). The family business currently employs nearly 11,000 employees and has made the charismatic Yan one of China's most recognisable CEO's.

Why You Should Watch Her Now: After a 2006 IPO that raised $480 million, Nine Dragons is also staging a speedy rebound from revenue declines in 2009. 2011 revenue figures are expected to be 91.6% higher than 2009 numbers. And while Yan has expanded production beyond her Hong Kong HQ, she's keeping a cool head about overdiversifying the firm's business model -- a sound strategy in this age of economic uncertainty.

The Donald Trump of Beijing: Shen Guojun

Role: Owner of Yintai Investment (Real Estate and Retailing)

The Quick and Dirty: This soft-spoken CEO worked for 6 years at China Construction Bank before striking out on his own in 1997 to start Yintai, which currently owns Beijing's 66-story, $880 million Yintai centre (home to the five-star Park Hyatt Hotel) -- as well as a number of retail franchises. He's also a Bill Gates fan, golf aficionado, and another Mao-era university student who ended up hitting start-up gold during the '90s.

Why You Should Watch Him Now: After publicly listing his firm on the Hong Kong stock exchange, Shen has spent the last three years expanding his retail locations along Beijing's burgeoning subway lines and is meanwhile juggling 10 real estate projects sure to further transform Beijing's skyline. Yintai's shares were also up 200% by the 4th quarter of 2009.

The Green Guru: Zhu Gongshan

Role: CEO and Chairman of GCL Poly Energy Holdings Ltd (Solar Energy Manufacturer)

The Quick and Dirty: As the CEO of GCL, Zhu heads up one of China's leading green energy suppliers, currently exporting its silicon products on the global market.

Why You Should Watch Him Now: He's a big deal in the market for sustainable energy and a player who no doubt will leverage China's emerging energy needs to grow his solar ventures (there's only so much oil to go around!). After a 2007 IPO that raised $151 million (with the retail portion of the deal being 905x oversubscribed), China Investment Corp. announced in late 2009 that it would buy a 20% stake in GCL in an open declaration of the CCP's intention to aggressively invest in alternative energy enterprises.

The Auto Madman: Li Shufu

Role: Chairman of Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. Ltd. (Automobiles Maker)

The Quick and Dirty: Li finally closed talks this past quarter on a deal to acquire Ford's Volvo brand is at the centre of China's lust for luxury cars from the West. The Volvo deal, which will cost Geely $1.8 billion, is the largest purchase of a foreign car maker by a Chinese entity.

Why You Should Watch Him Now: As China looks to satisfy its domestic consumers and export its newly minted cars to buyers around the world, Li is the current media poster child to watch. The key here is both quantity and quality (in the name of branding). China doesn't want to just mass-produce cars for ordinary folk in Shenzhen -- it wants to make sure its products are driven by the monied crowds of New York and London as well. Li himself has said that by 2015, he wants half of Geely's car sales to be in overseas markets.

The Guy Who's Not A Fan of Wall Street: Jack Ma

Role: Founder and CEO of Alibaba.com (E-Commerce Site)

The Quick and Dirty: Something like the Meg Whitman of China, Ma founded China's e-commerce giant in 1999 and has since then grown the start-up into five different enterprises -- one of them being China Yahoo. He apparently came up with the name 'Alibaba' after sitting at a San Francisco coffee shop and doesn't take kindly to Wall Street values (he reputedly puts shareholders last on his list of priorities, behind customers and Alibaba employees, saying he does not seek to create 'the most profitable company in China or the world').

Why You Should Watch Him Now: Despite a few publicity missteps, investors are still keen to see where this internet conglomerate is headed in the world's most internet-savvy nation. He's also set his sights high - 'If Alibaba cannot become a Microsoft or Wal-Mart, I will regret it for the rest of my life.'

The Would-Be Carouser: Zhang Jindong

Role: CEO of Suning Appliances (Electronics and Appliances Retailer)

The Quick and Dirty: As founder of China's largest electrical retailer, Zhang currently manages a franchise with 941 locations in China and is in the race to compete with the likes of Best Buy and Sears for both domestic and overseas market share. He's also a humble spender (doesn't balk at the thought of taking the train to a meeting) and the kind of guy who isn't afraid to break out a glass of wine in the conference room.

Why You Should Watch Him Now: Because China's 1.3 billion people and thriving middle class are going to be buying up stoves and AC units at a voracious pace in the next decade. Zhang is also expanding his empire abroad with the recent purchase of a 27% stake in the Japanese home electronics chain Laox.

NOW WATCH: Money & Markets videos

Want to read a more in-depth view on the trends influencing Australian business and the global economy? BI / Research is designed to help executives and industry leaders understand the major challenges and opportunities for industry, technology, strategy and the economy in the future. Sign up for free at research.businessinsider.com.au.