Closing Session: Defining Global Excellence
Speaker: Yao Ming, Athlete, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
Moderator: Andy Serwer, Managing Editor, Fortune
June 8, 2013
STEPHANIE MEHTA: And now we’re going to have something really different. It is my great pleasure to introduce for a session on defining global excellence, my boss, Managing Editor Andy Serwer, and Yao Ming. Please welcome them.
ANDY SERWER: He’s the man. Okay. I really don’t have to introduce this person at all. I think everyone knows who Yao Ming is, and Yao, thank you very, very much for coming here today. I really appreciate it.
Now, you wanted to talk in Mandarin, although you could talk in English, but you decided you wanted to talk in Mandarin, which is fine. So let’s do that.
And as I said, everyone knows who Yao is. But just to give you some context in my mind, of course, one of the greatest centers to ever play in the NBA, eight time all-star.
YAO MING: I lost count.
ANDY SERWER: I think eight is right, according to Wikipedia, so you never know. But I think that’s right. And retired two years ago. And just to give you an example, when he retired two years ago, there were 1.2 million comments on Weibo about that. So an extremely popular player. But even more than that, I mean, this individual I think really brought basketball to China at a whole new level. I mean basketball was here before, but just really elevated it. And by extension, really has helped make basketball a much more global sport. And I was talking to NBA Commissioner David Stern, who very much agrees with that.
And then all kinds of other implications, like Jeremy Lin goes to the Rockets because the Rockets have a Chinese fan base. And there are so many implications of your career, Yao, that it’s almost hard to quantify it. But Yao Ming has retired, as I said, two years ago. And it’s now the second act of your life, and your career. And so we want talk about basketball, but we also want to talk about you’re doing today.
And so I guess the first question is, what are you up to in the two years since you’ve retired from the NBA, from basketball?
YAO MING (Via translator): First of all, I would like to say good afternoon, everyone. After I retired, I came back to Shanghai Jiao University to complete my academic studies. And also at the same time, I want to expand my space of career. For instance, I have a professional basketball team in Shanghai, and also some other things, including my own foundation. I’m doing a lot of charity, because it’s something popular in China. So I can actually exchange with you on some of the issues here.
ANDY SERWER: Great. So let’s talk about some of these things. First of all, your philanthropy, do you want to talk about that first? We can talk about elephants, is that something that you’re keen on, right?
YAO MING: You’re the host.
ANDY SERWER: You go for it, dude.
YAO MING (Via translator): In 2008, we founded a Yao Foundation. Our aim is to help people in Eastern China, Western China, the priority areas, to establish schools, to provide books to them, but also some other educational material and operators. So we did a lot of this so far. We have with the help of everybody established 14 schools, half of them in Sichuan Province. The other seven schools are in Gansu Province. The Special Olympics we did in cooperation also in Shandong Province, and Yunnan Province, and Guizhou Province. Altogether, we have 14 schools.
At the beginning of last year, we started another program. The schools are called schools because in schools they have a unique atmosphere. Therefore, what we need to do is to crate something belonging to the school per se. So we switch to do some kind of a sports, school sports. We added a school sports program. Another organizational function we created, the basketball season for Hope Schools. Our goal is we can promote more regions and areas to organize the basketball matches between different kinds of schools. Because I’m a basketball player, so I use the basketball season as a breakthrough point. But it represents a big platform. We are attracting a lot of volunteers to work with us. WE use the basketball season as a platform, and also we help them to enjoy the art, and also talk about the outside world. In this way, through this kind of a basketball season, they can have a very beautiful summer vacation.
So the basketball season is just a breakthrough point. We do a lot of sideline events. I think sports plays a very important role in schooling. They can enable school children to learn a lot, which they cannot learn from the books per se. You cannot just learn everything only from the books in the stores. You can learn your self-judgment capabilities, the team work capability, but also leadership. So you need to experience all of this, because it can really capture all these skills.
We believe sports shall play an even more important role in education. We also hope we can integrate all this in an organic manner into the routine work of the school. So in four, or three decades later, when they look back they find this is a lot of fun.
ANDY SERWER: Excellent. So you’re also in the wine business. In the United States, that’s known as a great place to lose money. But how did you ‑‑ I hope you’re not doing that. How did you get interested in wine?
YAO MING (Via translator): First of all, China never lacked a wine culture. Actually for a place like Sichuan, I believe we have a lot of people who are used to drinking wine. However, what I would like to say is that the wine business I’m in is wine. It’s not liquor. It’s slightly different from the vodka liquor. Different types of wine or liquor behind them you see a different culture. Of course, you see the extension of a different kind of way of life, and also the way of how to taste the wine. I believe the red wine actually is like a lifestyle for everyday people.
I think not only it can very magically create some kind of atmosphere for yourself, or with your friends. You feel you’re in a very comfortable environment. Personally, I like very much in the afternoon, maybe a reading afternoon with a glass of red wine listening to the music, reading a book, chatting with some friends. That’s wine is like a media spreading, disseminating this kind of environment. So everybody kind of can enjoy it.
Of course, talk about a charity, so better not to drink before you are old enough. That’s my advice.
ANDY SERWER: That’s right. Good stuff.
Let’s talk a little bit about basketball in China. And you’re the owner of the Sharks, is that correct, the Shanghai Sharks? What is the state of basketball in China, and how is it growing? How would you describe the state of basketball right now?
YAO MING (Via translator): Basketball in the recent ten years here in China has become a most popular sport here in China, one of them. Of course, we have soccer, this is why I say one of.
It seems to me you have seen for the U.S. NBA, or the local CBA, China Basketball Association, all the measures printed about a lot of fine to everybody. From those measures we can discover a lot of things. We can learn something about the cultural elements. For example, charity is the same. From sports you can learn a lot of things. You learn your counterpart, your team members and on the court off the court different kinds of people. You get to learn them. More importantly, sports have become an industry. Sports in the future would also become an emerging growth point for the economy, the wealth it can create, of course. When a country’s national people, national economy, it has to pursue some spiritual aim. That is sports. You’re a spiritual warrior in addition to our sports. It’s another area which we need to watch closely.
Right now sports in China is only limited, more or less, to the so-called professional sports. But, the bigger one is the sports on campus, in the schools. We have COBA, university basketball, and COBS, also university basketball measures. But, our sports have not been fully understood thoroughly in this respect. We have a lot of room to improve ourselves. Sports have not been fully integrated into the school daily life. The young people, full of vigor and vitality, their integration with sports will become in the future the level of sports, or sports economy, which will enable them to develop more vigorously.
ANDY SERWER: Do you think that we are getting close to a time when the Chinese teams, or how long do you think it will be before Chinese teams are competitive with the NBA and a global league that people talk about in the distance?
YAO MING (Via translator): I’m afraid it will take a long, long time, a long time. I don’t know. Andy, do you want to discuss the about basketball market or the level of basketball, the skill?
ANDY SERWER: I’d like to talk about both. You talked about the basketball market and we have seen several Chinese players in the NBA, yourself and then Jeremy Lynn who was from California, of course, but of Chinese ancestry. And there were at least two other Chinese players who played in the NBA, is that right?
YAO MING: Three.
ANDY SERWER: Three total?
YAO MING: That would be four, four and Jeremy Lynn, that’s five.
ANDY SERWER: That’s a team. That’s a team. I’d like to see that team, actually play. That would be pretty cool, all five of you playing together against an American team. I think you would do pretty well.
YAO MING (Via translator): I have already retired.
ANDY SERWER: Well, in any event, the NBA is doing more here and coming over and trying to work with the league and raise the level of awareness, right. So I mean it’s starting to become ‑‑ I mean it’s a global league in terms of exposure and in terms of interest, right. I mean it is getting there. The NBA comes here and does a lot of work with you guys?
YAO MING: Yes.
ANDY SERWER: How do you work with them?
YAO MING (Via translator): The NBA in China is influenced, is huge, it’s promoted through influence in China. It’s television dissemination. They are broadcasting live. Basketball has a big impact on us, attracting a large number of fans to watch those plays. However, please allow me to be frank with you, actually our fans ensures us the level is not that high yet. Right now among them there is an impression I want to watch NBA. However, you have to understand something, NBA belongs to part of the basketball. So sometimes with the label of the NBA you will find the basketball actually is kind of boring. The only concern about those basketball stars, which has been very well integrated in the NBA, but without our further understanding, or the further participation of the fans into the basketball, you are only watching and enjoying. You cannot improve the level of basketball very much.
So the question is why we have the viewing rate, how we can enhance the fans participation in the basketball so they can go a level higher so the basketball march will be more solid and stronger, either for NBA and CBA. So this is something we need to consider.
ANDY SERWER: Speaking of Jeremy Lynn, do you talk to him at all and what do you think about his game?
YAO MING (Via translator): Sometimes we e-mail each other, or text-message each other, because I was myself an NBA player. I knew all the players are very much concerned about themselves. They hope they can relax. They don’t want to be disturbed. However, he has a very good track to go even further and people around him are trying their utmost to help him. I hope he will be doing fine.
ANDY SERWER: That’s great. And did you ‑‑ when you were a player did you think about what you wanted to do afterwards in terms of wine, or business, or philanthropy, or owning a basketball team? How much planning went into that? Planning, did you think about what you wanted to do after you were a player?
YAO MING (Via translator): First of all I’m sure I wanted to go back to the university to study. In China you all know education attracts a lot of attention among the Chinese. That is a promise to my parents. That is a guarantee I had to my parents. However, I also enjoy the time I had at that time. As for other things, for example, the basketball to owning a basketball team, or a wine business, or whatever else, they are kind of derivatives if I have an interest in those things, they’d develop later. But, coming back with the all the knowledge I gained from the school, nothing of them will occur.
ANDY SERWER: All right, Yao, you told me we have a clock in front of us and I mentioned that backstage, and you told me you’re very used to clocks counting down, right, three, two, one, right. So unfortunately our time is up. But, I do have to ask you one more ESPN question, okay. Very important, Spurs or Heat who is going to win?
YAO MING: That’s pretty challengeable.
ANDY SERWER: I know.
YAO MING (Via translator): I’m a fan of spurs.
ANDY SERWER: You heard it here first, okay. Who is going to win?
YAO MING (Via translator): I said I am a fan of Spurs.
ANDY SERWER: I hear you. Okay, very smart answer. All right. Yao Ming, thank you so much for coming.
Please join me in thanking Yao Ming. (Applause.)
Thank you so much. All right. Well that wraps things up for us at the global form and for 2013 Global Forum in Chengdu. We’ve learned a lot about China’s new future. And we’ll continue the conversation at Fortune.com and news and coverage and as all the stakeholders make decisions for businesses and organizations going forward, I would like to, again, acknowledge our partners. None of this would be possible without help from the Province of Sichuan, and of course the City of Chengdu. And I quickly would also like to thank our sponsors and our partners, our presenting partners trilogy and all of our partners, Air China, Coca-Cola, The Dev Factory, DuPont, Lenovo, PTT Group, Shuijingfang Company, Volvo cars, Zurich Insurance, our education partner George Washington University, our knowledge partner McKinsey and our supporting sponsors APCO and International SOS.
Thanks to all of you for your active participation, for sharing perspective and insights, that’s what makes the Fortune Global Forum so special. And in closing I would like to raise one final toast to everyone. So please enjoy. Have a wonderful day. Have a wonderful week, a wonderful year. And we look forward to seeing all of you, again, at the next Fortune Global Forum.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)