Meet Pony Ma, the billionaire tech CEO who is neck-and-neck with Jack Ma to be China’s richest man

tencent alibaba pony ma jack ma

  • Alibaba founder Jack Ma has been competing with one man to be the richest person in China for at least two years now.
  • That man is Pony Ma, who is the founder and CEO of the tech conglomerate Tencent.
  • Tencent operates the popular messaging app WeChat, which has more than 1 billion active users and whose vision Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been trying to follow.
  • Learn more about Pony Ma in the slides below.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma is arguably the most well-known tech billionaire in China, having grabbed headlines with his eccentric dance performances and presided over bizarre mass weddings for employees.

But there’s another face in Chinese tech that we should be looking out for: Ma Huateng, also known by his nickname Pony, who has for years been jostling with Jack to become the richest man in China.

Pony Ma and Jack Ma have constantly overtaken each other as the richest person in China on Forbes’s static rich list. (The two men are not related; Ma is a common Chinese surname.)

Pony Ma is the founder and CEO of internet company Tencent, which own the super-popular WeChat app. As of July 2019, Pony Ma has a net worth of $32.8 billion, compared to Jack Ma’s $34.6 billion.

Scroll down to learn more about Pony Ma and his company, which went from being a startup notorious for selling knockoffs to the owner of the most popular app in China.

This is Ma Huateng, who also goes by the nickname Pony. The 47-year-old is the founder and CEO of Tencent, China’s largest internet portal.

Tencent is the company behind WeChat, a multi-purpose app which is like a mixture of WhatsApp, Google News, Uber, and Deliveroo. It has around a billion users.

Ma is the company’s second-largest shareholder and largest individual shareholder with 8.6% of total shares, according to MarketScreener. Naspers, a South African internet conglomerate, owns 31.1%.

Ma’s English name and Tencent’s Chinese name apparently come from puns about horses.

Pony and Tencent’s names, as well as Ma’s own surname, are all horse references.

Although his given name is Huateng, Ma also goes by Pony — a nickname likely chosen for its English meaning.

Pony and Tencent’s names, as well as Ma’s own surname, are all horse references. “Ma” means horse in Chinese, while Tencent’s Chinese name, teng xun, stands for “an era of messaging in the speed of 10,000 horses running.

Tencent had humble beginnings. Ma founded the company in 1998, aged 26, and its first product was a knockoff.

Tencent’s first product was an adaptation of Israeli instant messaging ICQ for the Chinese market, according to The Economist.

After developing a reputation as a copycat, Ma decided to put Tencent through some “institutional self-reflection” in 2011.

Ma held a series of ten bruising meetings behind closed doors, where independent experts took the company to task, according to Bloomberg.

Tencent launched WeChat that January — and their new mindset paid off. The app has continued to innovate, and currently has 1.1 billion monthly active users.

WeChat and its sister service in China, Weixin, recorded 1.1 billion monthly active users at the end of March 2019, according to Tencent’s 2019 Q1 report.

Weixin and WeChat are formally the same entity — Weixin is for users with a Chinese telephone number, whereas WeChat is for those with foreign numbers.

One reason why WeChat has become so popular in China is because life is basically impossible without it. People can message their friends, make payments, contact businesses, and even order cabs on the app.

The photo above shows a horde of people in China trying to give money to street musicians via a QR code, which is linked to the recipient’s account.

It was taken by former Business Insider reporter Harrison Jacobs during a 2018 trip to China.

Read more: One photo shows that China is already in a cashless future

In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly hinted at modeling his social network after WeChat.

Read more: Facebook has a big, terrifying dream to be the communication backbone for the Western world

Tencent has also invested in gaming and banking to keep its users hooked on its services. Chinese users collectively spend 1.7 billion hours a day on Tencent apps, Bloomberg reported.

Tencent has a stake in WeBank, China’s first digital-only private bank, as well as in Chinese and international game developers.

Source: Bloomberg

Its biggest game, “Honor of Kings,” was so popular that the Chinese government called it “poison.”

In July 2017, Chinese state newspaper People’s Daily said the game spread “negative energy,” Forbes reported.

The accusations came even after Tencent announced restrictions limiting younger users to shorter game times — up to an hour for users under 12, and up to two hours for users between 12 and 18 — following complaints that children were getting addicted to the game.

This diversification seems to have paid off too. Tencent raked in total revenues of about 312.7 billion yuan ($45.6 billion) in 2018, with a profit of 80 billion yuan ($11.7 billion), the company said.

Source: Tencent 2018 Q4 results

Tencent’s success has launched Ma into China’s tech elite. Here’s a photo of him and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaking to Chinese President Xi Jinping at Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond, Washington, September 2015.

He — alongside his competitor Jack Ma — was even honored by the Chinese Communist Party for his “contributions to the reform and opening up.”

The list, published by the state-run People’s Daily newspaper, also confirmed that Jack Ma was a member of the Communist Party.

Pony Ma was named as “non-partisan.”

Pony Ma has also shown himself to be a quirky leader. In 2016, he sent his executives trekking through the desert to demonstrate his company’s determination.

Ma led his company’s leadership committee on a two-day hike through the Gobi Desert for their off-site retreat last year, according to Bloomberg.

The trip — meant to represent the “culture of the company” — consisted of two 26-kilometer hikes spread across two days, Bloomberg reported.

Some members petitioned to abandon the trip and go home early, but Ma and Tencent president Martin Lau insisted on continuing.

“The trip is representative of the culture of the company,” Lau later said. “We are much more focused on the direction of where we are going and the process than the share price.”

Such unusual team-building activities can also be found at Alibaba, which hosts mass weddings for its employees every year. Jack Ma usually officiates them, too.

Read more: Inside Alibaba’s bizarre mass wedding for employees, which is presided over by Jack Ma

Tencent’s employees seem to appreciate Pony Ma’s leadership, too. Barron’s, the business magazine, named him one of the best CEOs in 2019.