Chinese mogul Ma Huateng is the man behind Tencent, one of the largest internet and technology companies in the world — and Asia’s most valuable company.
Something of a rags-to-riches story, Ma’s first job after college was working for China Motion Telecom Development, where he earned $176 per month. In 1988, along with four other classmates, he co-founded Tencent. Like with many startups, keeping the company afloat wasn't easy at first. So Ma took up various roles ranging from janitor to website designer in order to pay the bills.
In the beginning, Tencent offered e-mail and internet paging services. But later there was a pivot which changed Ma’s life forever.
Inspired by ICQ, the world’s first Internet instant messaging service, the company's first product was a similar software, with a Chinese interface and a slightly different name — OICQ. Within a year, the product garnered more than a million registered users, making it one of the largest such services in China.
Under Ma’s leadership as CEO and chair, Tencent has continued to expand aggressively, getting its hands in every corner of the technology ecosystem. Its key areas of operation are social media, messaging, gaming, and investing. In fact, its popular social messaging app WeChat has more than 1 billion users. Additionally, it is one of the largest videogame publishers in the world, surpassing the revenues of Microsoft and Sony.
In 2017, the tech goliath became the ﬁrst Chinese company to pass a market cap of $500 billion, overtaking Facebook.
Tencent’s extraordinary success made Ma Huateng, who is widely referred to as “Pony Ma” because Ma is the Chinese word for “horse,” one of the wealthiest individuals in China. According to Fortune, as of November 2022, the tech entrepreneur is worth $32 billion. Back in November 2017, he was also the first Chinese businessman to be featured on Forbes list of the top 10 richest men in the world. Over the years, he's been honored by Time magazine several times, notably being featured on their list of the most influential people in the world for 2007, 2014, and 2018.
Often compared to Warren Buffett, Huateng is one of the most successful investors in the world and is known for his generous philanthropy. In 2016, he transferred $2.3 billion worth of his personal Tencent shares to his charitable foundation, the Ma Huateng Global Foundation.