CEO Interviews at Fortune Global Forum: Pony Ma

  • January 17, 2018
  • Scott

One of the highlights of the Fortune Global Forum were the really fantastic interviews with the CEOs of amazing companies.  Even for CEOs, these are heroes that are looked up to in large part.  Each one of them had a way of distilling really important initiatives in their companies down to *very* simple phrasing that anyone could remember.  This is part of a series of short posts based on my notes in each session:

Pony Ma, Tencent

How to foster innovation within a big, successful company – that is also growing quickly.  This was a topic in a wide ranging interview with Pony Ma of Tencent.  The key question being, how did he foster the development of a new platform (WeChat) when they already had a successful QQ platform.  He started with the belief that he needed to challenge their own platform, and challenge the status quo, in order to get to the next level.

Tencent spun up 3 teams to work on WeChat – competing to win the competition.  Pony Ma’s belief is that internal competition can help spur innovation as well.  At the scale at which Tencent is operating I’m sure that is a valid approach.

He also spent some time talking about the concept of really local culture – like lucky money in China.  This is a tradition I’m familiar with thanks to my wife’s family – and it is really a great part of the culture.  Essentially, you gift money in a red envelope to your younger family members or on big occasions or on Lunar New Year – for good luck.  To Pony Ma’s point – Tencent went out of their way to incorporate the concept of lucky money – virtual red envelopes – in their platform.  It’s now 800 million people using WeChat/WePay for lucky money.  It’s a big breakthrough that acknowledges Chinese culture as well. Pony points out that even beggars or street performers can take donations via WePay.

In his view, cash isn’t eliminated – it is digitized – which is a great convenience for buyers and sellers.

The moderator asked how can traditional, non-digital-first companies connect to the digital world better?  Pony Ma didn’t have a silver bullet here but felt the opportunities in financial services and insurance and the stock market were fantastic – but that there are lots of service business model opportunities as well.

Finally they discussed corporate structure and Mr. Ma came down strongly in favor of simple businesses with few subsidiaries in order to respect investors and avoid confusion.  This view of simple corporate governance and structure feels counter to the prevailing approach in China, but I don’t have the statistics to back that opinion up.

Fortune covers his comments about competitor Alibaba here.

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