By Jeff John Roberts and Adam Lashinsky
November 30, 2018

Jane Sun, CEO of Ctrip, the Chinese online travel site, says “talent follows opportunity.” She’s referring in part to her own fortunate journey. She was a finance executive in Silicon Valley in the 1990s at the semiconductor manufacturing company Applied Materials. When her husband was offered a job as an early employee of Alibaba they returned to their native China, where she joined the company she now leads. It’s worth $16 billion and has ambitions to be global, beyond its role today serving Chinese travelers at home and abroad.

Sun’s career timing has been impeccable. It also mirrors the rise of the Chinese technology phenomenon. After spending two days meeting entrepreneurs and executives at some of China’s most dynamic companies—and also Westerners still eager to cash in on China’s growth—I’m persuaded that for all the obstacles this story isn’t over.

On a panel Friday morning at the Fortune Global Tech Forum in Guangzhou the chief technology officer of Ant Financial, Alan Qi, spoke about how the Alibaba-affiliate is using artificial intelligence to improve the efficiency of insurance adjusters. Jim Breyer, the veteran Silicon Valley venture capitalist, thinks eight out of the 18 most valuable companies ten years from now will be Chinese A.I. outfits. His business partner, IDG Capital’s Hugo Shong thinks 10 of the 18 will be Chinese. They agree the balance will be American.

The Chinese are having positive impacts in unexpected ways. George Yip, the British business school professor and scholar of Chinese business, has done case studies on how Haier’s investments in GE’s appliance business and Geely’s investments in Volvo helped revive neglected brands. Chinese startups are upending the education market too. Cindy Mi, founder of VIPKid, says the most popular location of her firm’s online English teachers is Texas. Entrepreneur Yi Wang runs LAIX, a company that is teaching English to adults with an A.I.-driven personalized “virtual teacher.”

Despite trade tensions, despite language barriers, despite China being all but closed to U.S. Internet giants, so much opportunity remains. The talent will surely continue to follow.

Adam Lashinsky


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