AIB Featured Business Leader – Huateng Pony Ma

Last modified 10 June 2022
Categories: Business Leaders
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
AIB Featured Business Leader – Huateng Pony Ma

The Western world may not know much about Chinese internet entrepreneur Huateng ‘Pony’ Ma, but as China’s third richest man, he’s not going to drop off the business radar anytime soon. Pony Ma is the co-founder, president and CEO of Tencent Inc. – one of the largest internet companies in China. Tencent controls the biggest mobile instant messaging service in the country, with its subsidiaries providing everything from entertainment to mobile phone value-added services. As Facebook is banned in China and Google has retreated from the country, Chinese internet companies do have some advantages, but Pony Ma has led Tencent to become an innovative and highly successful company. Learn more about his business journey below, including his background and impressive accolades. 

Early life

Pony Ma is considered a rather private CEO – not much is known about his personal life, including his background. In an interview with Fast Company, he claimed that as a child he dreamt of becoming an astronomer. After school, he enrolled at Shenzhen University and graduated with a Bachelor of Computer Science in 1993. His first job earned him a reported $176 per month and involved developing software for pagers at China Motion Telecom Development, a supplier of telecommunications services and products. Before co-founding Tencent in 1998, he also worked in the research and development department for Shenzhen Runxun Communications Company.

Founding Tencent

In 1998, along with four other classmates, Ma co-founded Tencent with funds that he made playing the stock market. In the early days, he worked in a range of roles, from office cleaner to a website designer, as the group tried to keep the company afloat. Tencent’s first product was inspired by a presentation that Ma saw on the world’s first internet instant messaging service, ICQ. He and his team launched a similar software product called QICQ in February 1999 that quickly gained interest, garnering more than one million registered users by the end of that year. This was somewhat controversial due to the similarities to ICQ, and there were claims that Tencent had plagiarised the idea. Talking to The China Daily about these claims in 2009, Ma said “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. He also touched on the fact that like many new businesses, there were financial struggles to begin with, and these were experienced for some time.

What is interesting about Pony Ma’s leadership is how innovative the company has become – despite the obvious handicap of no Facebook and Google in China, Tencent has led the way in a number of areas. Fast Company reports that “the company embraced mobile years before Facebook, and has built a platform, used by 355 million active users, that functionally offers every popular service that Americans are familiar with – including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Zynga”. It also added a taxi finder service, similar to Uber, that was used a huge 21 million times in the first few weeks after launching. Tencent is active in social media – its WeChat mobile texting service has a whopping 760 million users. Ma said, “The industry is on the rise and its beauty lies in its uncertainty, but we are passionate and interested in exploring the unknown.”


Pony Ma boasts a range of rankings and achievements, with Time Magazine naming him one of the world’s most influential people in 2007 and 2014. In March 2016, Forbes published that he is the 39th richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of US$19.4 billion. Despite such astronomical wealth, in July this year he transferred 100 million shares of Tencent (worth approximately $2 billion) to his charitable foundation. In addition, he has received many honours such as “Young Global Leader”, “25 Most Powerful Business People In Asia”, and one of the “30 World’s Best CEOs”.

What do you think?

In a rare interview with foreign press at the TechCrunch Disrupt Beijing, Ma said, “A small developer, one guy or just a few, all they need is a good idea, and they can tap into our traffic”. It seems that no one has successfully done that yet, allowing Pony to maintain the position of one of China’s richest and most influential business people. What do you think about his career? I’d love to hear whether you’d heard of Pony Ma before, and what you think about his successes so far.

This article was written by Laura Hutton on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: Wikipedia, BJ review, Fast Company, Forbes, Crunch Base and Business Insider.

Image by Wxmarshall on Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0, added on 10/06/2022

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