Better Know a Billionaire: Chinese Tech Edition

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Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, attends the 2015 China Green Companies summit on April 21, 2015 in Shenyang, China.

The most successful of China's tech entrepreneurs have created some of the world's biggest companies and amassed stunning fortunes. Often they are little known outside of China, but that is changing as they expand abroad and sell shares on Wall Street. A look at key figures in Chinese business.

E-commerce Leader: Jack Ma, co-founder and chairman of Alibaba Group.

One of China's best-known entrepreneurs, this former English teacher from the eastern city of Hangzhou is credited with laying the foundation for e-commerce in China by founding Alibaba in 1999 to link Chinese suppliers with retailers abroad. The company expanded into consumer e-commerce with its Taobao and Tmall platforms. In response to China's lack of infrastructure such as credit cards to support e-commerce, Alibaba created online payments service Alipay. The company has become the world's biggest online bazaar, with total sales exceeding those of Amazon.com Inc. and eBay combined. Last year, Alibaba also set another record, raising $25 billion on Wall Street in the biggest U.S. initial public stock offering to date. Ma's net worth soared to $25 billion, making him China's richest businessman. Ma is known for colorful behavior that includes dressing in a leather jacket and platinum wig to sing rock songs at the company's annual Alifest employee gathering, a raucous event in a soccer stadium before an audience of thousands. Ma, who turned 50 in September, stepped down in 2013 as chief executive, saying he was too old for the Internet, but stayed on as executive chairman.

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Online Innovator: Ma Huateng, co-founder and chairman of Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Ma, who is no relation to Jack Ma, is the quiet counterpart to his flamboyant rival at Alibaba. The company co-founded by Ma Huateng in 1998 has gone from success to success, first in online games, then with its QQ instant message service and now as operator of the hugely popular WeChat social media platform, which it says has 550 million active users. Its strategy is built on offering entry-level services for free, then charging for added features on games and linking social media to e-commerce and other money-making ventures. That has helped to make Tencent, with 25,000 employees, one of the most valuable tech companies, with a market cap of $150 billion. Ma is worth $18 billion. Along with Alibaba and search engine Baidu Inc., the third member of China's trio of leading Internet companies, Tencent is rushing to build a presence in mobile Internet as Chinese Web surfers switch to going online via smartphones and tablets. Since the start of 2013, Tencent has spent about $1 billion, according to Chinese news reports, to buy a 15 percent stake in China's No. 2 e-commerce company, JD.com, and to acquire or create services in online video and taxi-hailing.

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Net Nuts and Bolts: Ren Zhengfei, founder and CEO of Huawei Technologies Ltd.

A former military engineer, Ren founded Huawei in 1988 to sell imported equipment to Chinese phone carriers, then moved into technology development when its foreign supplier was bought by a competitor. It has grown to become, along with Sweden's LM Ericsson and the proposed tie-up between Nokia and France's Alcatel Lucent, one of the biggest suppliers of switching gear used by phone and Internet companies. Shut out of Chinese cities that were dominated by state-owned and foreign suppliers, Ren pursued a guerrilla strategy of selling to developing countries in Asia and Africa and to Chinese small towns before making inroads into major urban markets. Today, Huawei is expanding into consumer products with its own line of smartphones. With 150,000 employees, the company reported 288.2 billion yuan ($46.5 billion) in sales last year but has struggled to mollify concerns in the United States, Australia and elsewhere that it is a security risk. Ren, who turned 70 in October, has created a system of three co-chief executives who take turns to lead the company.​

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Smartphone Challenger: Jun Lei, co-founder and chairman of Xiaomi.

Founded in 2010, Xiaomi has soared past domestic rivals Lenovo and Huawei to become the world's No. 3 smartphone brand by number of handsets sold. Now, the company is expanding into India. Trained as an engineer, Lei has said he was inspired by the example of Apple Inc.'s Steve Jobs. Lei rose to become CEO and vice chairman of Kingsoft, one of China's biggest software companies, and played a role in the launch of Joyo.com, later acquired by Amazon as its Chinese arm. Lei spent the past decade as a venture capital investor before launching Xiaomi with former Google executive Lin Bin. Since then, he has taken on a second job as chairman of Kingsoft. After he was awarded a bonus of stock worth 93 million Hong Kong dollars ($11.9 million) by Kingsoft's board in July, Lei announced he would give it away to the company's employees in thanks for their work. Lei ranked No. 10 on this year's Hurun China Rich list with a net worth of $7.2 billion.

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