Didi's Cheng Wei: Chinese patriot who tamed Uber

Thu Aug 11, 2016 7:13pm EDT
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By Paul Carsten

BEIJING (Reuters) - Cheng Wei, 34, was once assistant to the head of a foot massage firm. Last week, his company Didi Chuxing bagged Uber's China business in a deal valuing his ride-hailing start-up at $35 billion - a second success in as many years in a grueling battle with a rival.

Investors and Didi staff say Cheng has a cool head, a keen strategic eye and a lack of ego - all pivotal in taking on and beating Uber in a two-year, multi-billion-dollar scrap for China's competitive ride-hailing market.

But his leadership style is also cut-throat and tinged with nationalism, say some of those who know him. He often references China's history and military in his speeches.

He will be closely watched now as he looks to turn his vast, money-losing ride-hailing company into a meaningful business. Chinese media have reported that Didi users and drivers fear the company's virtual monopoly will mean pricier rides and lower wages.

"He's probably one of the fastest growing CEOs I've seen. If not the best then definitely one of the top three, and I back a lot of people," said Hans Tung, managing partner at GGV Capital, which has funded Beijing-based Didi.

Cheng, who favors rectangle-framed glasses and polo shirts, also has an astute eye for talent - such as hiring foreign-educated rainmaker and ex-Goldman Sachs banker Jean Liu - and managed Didi's relationship with major investors Alibaba and Tencent, who are bitter internet rivals, say those who have worked with him.

"From the outside, you'd say this guy is really lucky, but on the flip side, he knows who the right people to know are and who to have good relationships with, and how to get them to work with him," said a person who has worked with and advised Cheng for years. "It's a very unique personality trait."


Founder and CEO of Didi Kuaidi, Cheng Wei reacts during a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in China's port city Dalian, September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo