In this Year of the Horse (Ma, in Chinese), it’s easy to remember Jack Ma, who has been crowned China’s No. 1 tycoon, and forget another horse – Pony Ma.
But for us today, Pony Ma is top of mind. The low-profile founder of Tencent Holdings is celebrating his 43rd birthday.
Sixteen years after its founding, Tencent is a company worth HK$1.1 trillion (US$141.8 billion). The stock is Hong Kong’s No. 1 in turnover and No. 4 by market cap. It’s up more than 150 times its listing price 10 years ago.
Just to give you an idea what a HK$1.1 trillion company looks like, it’s bigger than all the listed units of tycoon Li Ka-shing and just behind China Mobile, HSBC and China Construction Bank.
With a 10 per cent stake in Tencent, Pony Ma is ranked No. 3 in China by Forbes with a US$14.4 billion fortune, behind 50-year-old Jack Ma (US$19.5 billion) and Baidu’s 45-year-old founder Robin Li (US$14.7 billion).
In one of the fiercest cyber battles in China, Pony led Tencent to become the country’s biggest mobile game company while also running the biggest instant messaging service in QQ and, more recently, WeChat.
He presided over the seamless transformation from desktop QQ to mobile WeChat. By August, the latter had 430 million users worldwide, trailing only Whatsapp, a Facebook unit, which had 600 million active users in United States and around the world.
With a computer degree from Shenzhen University, Pony worked in China Motion Telecom Development as head of research and development for an internet paging system.
China Motion Telecom became a small mobile service reseller in Hong Kong and Shenzhen after its founder, Tony Hau, was jailed for corruption and the listed company was sold to a mainland property firm.
Unlike other internet pioneers, Pony Ma has no fancy names or titles, although he could easily be called “WeChat king” or “godfather of Chinese mobile games”.
In fact, Pony likes it that way. He rarely gives interviews and prefers a low-profile annual gathering with local reporters.
What could Pony be thinking now?
He might be worrying about how WeChat’s overseas plans could be affected by the Hong Kong protests.
Several surveys have shown that young Hong Kong people, voracious users of instant messaging services, are increasingly distrustful of mainland China.
Also, Hong Kong consumers might be wary about using WeChat and other Chinese messaging platforms after Xiaomi handsets, a popular homegrown smartphone brand, were found to have been sending secret codes to Beijing.
If WeChat fails in Hong Kong, how can it expand to Taiwan and other Asian markets?
But we could be wrong. Pony might not be thinking about these at all today. That’s just our own notion of being young and restless.
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