Zuck among contemporaries in China

December 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Facebook’s 26 year old founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is reportedly vacationing in China this week before Christmas, and while there, meeting with several tech CEOs, including those of Sina (the Web portal), Baidu (the search engine), and China Mobile.  China’s government has blocked access to Facebook, which never reached more than 1M subscribers, and it’s no wonder that Zuckerberg would want to figure out a way to get re-established there, the world’s #1 Internet market by users.

And while that story provides plenty of blog fodder, I was drawn to a different angle, which was the assumption that while twenty-something CEOs aren’t so uncomon in the Bay Area, Zuckerberg must be just a little bit unusual in a culture as traditional as China’s.  I couldn’t help but snicker, thinking of the image of Zuck, in his youthful hoodie and tennis shoes, holding court with one of China’s stately, older, buttoned-up telecom execs.  Does Zuck even own a tie, and if he does, has he ever executed a windsor knot?

But then I did a little digging, and found something that surprised me.  According to a 2008 study by executive recruiting firm, Spencer Stuart, the median age of an S&P 500 CEO is 54 years (although if you consider a larger sample size the age drops a bit, and even more so if you consider only IT-related firms, according to another, albeit somewhat dated study by consulting firm Booze Allen & Hamilton).  Compare this to what the Cass Business School in London reports in a 2007 report, that “young” CEOs occupy 36 of the top 50 slots in China.  This fact no doubt makes it much easier for Zuckerberg to relate to his counterparts there – which certainly won’t hurt his business development efforts now and down the road.  But of equal importance is what this means to the new world order, as China evolves from its reputation as a low-cost, fast-follower, to a legitimate innovator in its own right.  Knowing that China’s economy is increasingly led by young, innovative talent adds credibilty to the argument that China is both a competive threat and strategic partner to our world-beating technology industry.  Those who have in the past doubted the efficacy and legitimacy of the Chinese have typically had to eat their words.


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