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China’s Tech Moves Ahead of the West in Some Areas

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On my way through security in San Francisco Sunday afternoon I ran into a Silicon Valley-based executive traveling on the same flight to Fortune’s CEO Initiative event in New York. I asked how important China was to his business, and he listed the number of Chinese cities in which his company has relatively new offices and told me he visits the country regularly. As for me, with our Fortune Global Forum and Brainstorm Tech International conferences in Guangzhou approaching and fresh off our “China innovation” dinner last week, I guesstimated that China accounts for 25% of my “mindshare” these days.

I’m not alone.

Apple, for instance, has named one executive to oversee operations for the entire country, plus Hong Kong and Taiwan, the only country to which Apple dedicates a single executive. Her name is Isabel Ge Mahe, and as Fortune’s Claire Zillman makes clear in her informative profile , the 43-year-old native mainlander is an interesting choice. A huge part of the China country head position is dealing with the Chinese government. Yet there is nothing in Mahe’s background that suggests any experience dealing with the formidable task of conducting government relations in Beijing.

Instead, Mahe is an accomplished wireless engineer and manager, having risen the ranks at Apple (AAPL) and worked on key products. When filling a role like this companies can go with someone who knows the ins and outs of the local government and hope they can learn the company. Or as Apple has, it can choose someone who knows the company and ask them to learn the ropes in the halls of power.

Mahe has her work cut out for her.


On the subject of China innovation, it was as if The Economist was eavesdropping on our dinner last Thursday night, which, given its deadlines, I know wasn’t the case. We devoted a panel to explaining how the Chinese have leapfrogged the West in certain areas, including wireless payments. This article gives great details on the same subject. And Berkeley economist Laura Tyson eloquently cautioned about allowing China to pursue innovation with an unfair advantage. This “leader” intelligently makes the same case.


Sorry for the late notice, but at 9:15 a.m. Eastern today I will be interviewing Google’s (GOOGL) Sridhar Ramaswamy, the company’s senior vice-president of ads and commerce, and Marc Lore, president and CEO of Walmart (WMT) eCommerce U.S. I plan to ask them about their recent formation of the anti-Amazon alliance. The event, part of Advertising Week in New York, will be livestreamed here.