Cao Guowei, or Charles Chao as he’s now also known, was born in Shanghai in 1969. He graduated in 1989, with a degree in journalism from Fudan University. That got him a short-lived job as a reporter for Shanghai TV, and crucially helped him to move abroad – to study journalism at the University of Oklahoma.
Once he’d got his degree, Chao decided to study accounting, a choice that would completely change the course of his career, beginning his education in financial engineering. After graduation he went to work first for Arthur Anderson and then PricewaterhouseCoopers.
It was Chao’s financial expertise, gained working on IPOs, mergers and acquisitions, which finally gave him the opportunity to return to China. In 1999, at the tender age of 30, he asked his friend, Sina’s then COO Mao Daolin, for career advice. Mao told him to come work at Sina. The timing was impeccable – Sina was struggling to arrange its Nasdaq listing, and needed someone with experience in US financial regulations. The Sina IPO was pulled off later that year, with Chao in charge of coordinating work between the lawyers, the bankers and the SEC.
Chao was promoted to CFO in 2001, and it wasn’t long before he was shaping the growth strategy of the popular online portal. He recognised early on the potential of China’s mobile phone market, and over the next few years made acquisitions that established Sina in the ‘wireless’ business. Selling games, news, ring tones and other services to mobile phone users created a crucial new revenue stream for the young company.
That led to Chao being made co-COO in June 2004, a position he used to revamp the site’s advertising sales team and marketing software. But his real talents only became apparent a year later, when industry rival Shanda made an unsolicited raid on the company’s shares. Sina had tried (and failed) to acquire Shanda in 2003, and its boss Chen Tianqiao was eager to return the favour. Shanda managed to buy 19.5% of Sina and would have continued to accumulate but Chao managed to put together a ‘poison pill’ defence.
The ultimate coup
Chao then took over from Wang Yan as CEO in May 2006, Not short of confidence at the time – “No one knows better than I Sina’s business… no one is even close to me” – he suffered a setback last year when his bid to acquire the assets of Focus Media failed.
But he soon pulled off another deal that cemented his place as Sina boss. Together with other members of the senior management, Chao put together a $180 million buy out, which made his consortium the company’s single largest shareholder.
The empire building can now begin in earnest. “We should think of ways to enter games, e-commerce and other fields,” Chao says.
Sina has over 95 million registered users and a popular new feature is its Twitter-like microblogging service.
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