26 – 100 in alphabetical order: Jean (Qing) Liu, Didi Chuxing

Didi Chuxing, a China-based ride-hailing application provider, raised an aggregate of more than $20bn as of July 2018 before receiving an additional $500m investment from Nasdaq-listed travel service firm Booking Holdings in the same month.

In 2017, Didi had raised more than $9bn from a consortium including Japan-headquartered telecoms and internet group SoftBank, China-based internet group Tencent, China-based e-commerce group Alibaba and US-headquartered consumer electronics provider Apple.

Earlier this year, in March, SoftBank funded Didi $1.6bn, its third investment after having supplied funds in earlier rounds – $4.5bn in mid-2016 and $4bn in December 2017. They were the largest rounds of funding yet for a technology company, and Didi is reportedly valued at $56bn.

Qing (Jean) Liu, president of Didi Chuxing, has been behind much of Didi’s rise and was reportedly behind US-listed technology firm Apple’s decision to invest $1bn in Uber. She joined Didi in July 2014 as chief operating officer when the company was two years old and was instrumental in last year’s $7bn takeover of Uber’s Chinese operation in return for the US company taking a 20% stake in the merged business. Didi also invested $1bn in Uber.

Earlier, in 2015, she led the strategic merger of Didi Dache and its main competitor Kuaidi Dache to form Didi Chuxing. Now, she has been preparing its shift towards autonomous driving and artificial intelligence and machine learning, plus international expansion with corporate venturing an important tool.

With Stephen Zhu, vice-president of strategy at Didi Chuxing who ranked first for the GCV Rising Stars 2018 awards and was chosen again in 2019, they have had an impressive few years.

Didi Chuxing was formed out of the merger in 2015 of two Chinese ride-hailing platforms – Tencent-backed Didi Dache, and Kuadi Dache, which had received early-stage funding from Alibaba. Didi is now the world’s largest online transportation platform with more than 450 million users and 21 million drivers and has a traffic management system to reduce congestion through machine learning.

Didi’s meteoric rise has been fuelled by Japan’s SoftBank, Chinese tech giants Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent, as well as corporations Apple and Foxconn and state investor Mubadala.

To develop its international strategy, Zhu used corporate venturing. In his Tech in Asia interview in November 2015 he said: “In each region, you have different users, different drivers, a different regulatory regime. So, we go with a local champion that knows the market much better.”

Didi had invested in Uber’s main US peer, Lyft, through a series of corporate venturing rounds from 2015, and also, often alongside Tencent or SoftBank or both, has investments in Taxify which operates in Europe and Africa, Careem in the Middle East, Ola in India, Grab in southeast Asia and Brazil’s 99 before turning it into a majority stake at an about $1bn valuation.

Didi’s investments in these companies involve sharing technological and logistical data between the companies rather than private user data.

Zhu told Tech In Asia: “We work together, and we can share experiences in terms of technology, deep learning, product innovation, and operations. We can speed each other up.

“We are thinking about sharing a lot of the learnings we have in China to other markets like Southeast Asia and India.

“When you think of the dynamics of the cities, it is quite similar – you have high population density, and you have various price points.

“The bus service we have could potentially work out in southeast Asia or India as well. We think collaboration works perfectly.”

The crossholdings between Didi and Uber could prove influential if it leads to consolidation as the two also share external shareholders. In December 2017, SoftBank completed its acquisition of up to 20% of Uber at about $48bn in value, down from $68bn in its previous round and less than Didi in its latest round, which could encourage consolidation around one global champion.

This is a far cry from when, in May 2013, Tencent invested $15m for a 20% stake in Beijing-based Didi Taxi’s series B round, at an estimated $60m valuation. Back then, the Didi Taxi mobile phone app had just entered the Shanghai market with 5,000 new orders from the city every day.

Liu’s Beijing office is in Zhongguancun, China’s answer to California’s Silicon Valley. In a profile for news provider Financial Times, Liu said she had “spent her life bouncing from elite institution to elite institution in a dizzying spiral of success”.

Liu was born in 1978 into what the Financial Times referred to as “Chinese tech royalty”, as the daughter of Chuanzhi Liu, who founded Lenovo, the computer maker that bought IBM’s personal computer (PC) business in 2005 and subsequently became the largest PC maker in the world. She told Financial Times: “My father said one thing that has stayed with me: ‘It is supposed to be hard.’ When you have that mentality, you find nothing is so difficult. Then you actually start to enjoy it and have fun.”

Graduating from Peking University with a degree in computer science, she went on to do a master’s at Harvard, followed by 12 years at Goldman Sachs, mostly in Hong Kong, where she worked with Martin Lau and James Mitchell, senior executives at another of Didi’s investors, Tencent.

But while gender discrimination remains generally common in China, Liu told Financial Times she had never experienced discrimination while at Goldman Sachs nor at Didi and “my feeling is that there are more women in China in tech than in other industries”.

A study by the Cyberspace Administration of China quoted by Financial Times estimated women started 55% of internet companies in the country, compared with 22% of startups in the US, according to research by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya, authors of Innovating Women.

In an interview held in February 2018 with QuartzAtWork, Liu said: “A female colleague once said to me that her male peers plan careers in terms of decades, but she was not able to do so because she has to factor in family, children, and the sacrifices women are expected to make along the same timeline. Hearing that made my heart ache.

“Cheng Wei – our founder – and I started the Didi Women’s Network to help women break exactly that kind of mid-career bottleneck. I want to help create an environment where young woman can afford to view a family and a career as mutually reinforcing blessings, not some kind of ‘handicap’ or ‘challenge’. To me, personally, motherhood actually opens up a new phase of enhanced motivation and broadened thinking, and develops one’s emotional intelligence, which I believe is critical in modern business.”

She added: “I am lucky that at a very early stage of my life, I came to realise that you do not need to set any limits for yourself just because you are a woman, or a computer scientist, or a banker. Stay curious, stay open and never stop growing – that way we are always ready when new opportunities arise. We live in a multi-disciplinary world, and our different skills and passions make us richer humans and more effective leaders and employees.”