Zhang Zhidong

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Name: Zhang Zhidong 

Country: China 

Date: 1st January 1971

Education: Shenzen University (Bachelors), South China University of Technology (Masters)

Type of Business:  E-business 

Main Achievements: Co-founding Tencent 

Something interesting about this person: He mostly stays out of the spotlight hence, very little is known about him


Zhang Zhidong or Tony Zhang is a self-made billionaire from Shenzen. He was born on 1st January 1972, in Dongguan in the South of the Guangdong province in China. From an early age, he was very interested in computers. So, in 1990 he enrolled himself in a Computer Science degree at Shenzhen University, where he studied with Ma Huateng (or Pony Huateng) with whom he became good friends. He would become his business partner later on. He graduated from Shenzen University in 1993.  Zhidong would then go to Guangzhou and pursue his master’s degree in the China University of Technology, which he completed in 1996.

He returned to Shenzen once more to start working. Initially, he worked for Liming Network Group. It was a software company that developed platforms for electronic transactions. They specialized in making software for the Shanghai and Shenzen stock exchange. He left the job eventually and started his own company with his former classmate Ma Huateng. 

Tencent is a technology giant; it was founded in 1998. Initially, the company was called OICQ; they developed an instant messaging program for the Chinese market. Their motivation was when AOL bought an instant messaging program called ICQ from an Israeli company. After a threat of trademark infringement, they changed the program’s name to QQ. They also changed the company name to Tencent and opened it for the public in the Hong Kong Stock exchange in 2004. 

Within two months of QQ’s release, 200,000 registered, and by 2002, they were more than 1 million. The company had a hard time finding investments.  Initially, the company depended heavily on foreign investment to garner capital and grow. MIH, a South African Media group, owns at least 33% of the shares even today. 

Thanks to foreign investment, the company has expanded its portfolio to include mobile and telecommunication services, internet, casual games, and online payment systems. Some of their most popular products are QZone mobile instant messenger Weixin, video portal v.qq.com among many others.  As of today, they own foreign companies such as Riot Games who has produced the likes of like League of Legends and Legends of Runterra. They also own WeChat and Snap Inc. 

Though he is the co-founder of Tencent, not much is known about Zhang Zhidong. This is because he stays out of the spotlight and rarely ever gives interviews. As a result, even people within the industry sometimes fail to recognize him. Once, at a large entrepreneur meeting, no one knew who he was. They realized who he was after he took out his business card. 

Only a few facts about him are known, such as the fact that he currently married and has one child. His co-workers describe him as being humble and down to earth person, although he earns millions of dollars. When he had to buy a new car, he bought a Volkswagen Bora while other billionaires buy Ferraris or Rolls Royce. His net worth is 17.8 Billion dollars. As of 2019, he was the 15th richest person in China. Though he left the company in 2014, Zhidong retains a 3.4% stake in Tencent holdings. A 2013 company filing indicates that he owns his stake through Best Update International, a British Virgin Islands company.

He is also known as the man behind Ma Huateng coming up with innovative projects. He, along with his co-workers, came up with the idea to give out Red Envelope money digitally.  A move that even Jack Ma has praised. Zhang was the executive director and Chief Technology Officer at Tencent until 2014. He decided to resign from the company for unknown reasons. Though he will retain an advisory role in the company. His spheres of influence have not decreased in Tencent. In 2018 they launched a project that was proposed by Zhang. The project consisted of changing the various algorithms of the company to warn users about potential health risks.  For example, they remind middle-aged users to step away from computer games and exercise instead. They helped exasperated users rest and help others to manage their time more efficiently. Zhang has said that this is an effort by the company to make technology more responsible and invested in social welfare.