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Silicon Dragon: China, Tech Race, Jack Ma, Leadership

by Steve Stine

Rebecca Fannin wrote Silicon Dragon: How China is Winning the Tech Race more than 10 years ago, at a time when both China’s tech companies were on the rise—and the future was unclear. She’s my guest this episode, and her account of those days is fascinating—and not simply a matter of early entry and good luck.

Take the case of Jack Ma. I remember inviting Ma to Singapore in 1998 to join a panel of eCommerce entrepreneurs at a time when the industry was in its infancy. I watched in amazement as he won hearts and minds with his visionary – some, then, might have said outlandish – predictions for our digital future.

Looking back now, what is striking is that, above all else, Jack Ma had a story to tell. It wasn’t everything but it was enough to win investment support from investors like Goldman Sachs, Fidelity, and Softbank.

My guest Rebecca Fannin—who eventually went on to found Silicon Dragon Ventures—gives us her own take Alibaba, but also reminds us that these are different times. Today the room is crowded with Alibaba wannabes and even more crowded with heavy-breathing investors who want a piece of the China tech dream.

Is it too much money chasing too few deals? Why do companies and investors alike continue to undervalue the importance of enlightened and dynamic leadership? Could it be that in an environment where innovation operates at breakneck, dizzying speed, the human dimension – embodied by the charismatic CEO – may prove to be the key determining factor in China’s quest for global tech dominance?

As always, thanks for listening.