Li Xiaolin was born in 1961 in Beijing. As the daughter of former Prime Minister Li Peng, she grew up in the spotlight. She travelled with her father nationwide from the age of 10, and has vivid memories of him on construction sites wearing a helmet, talking with both workers and engineers. She thought, “He is like a general, speaking with millions of troops. Someday I want to be that general too.”
She graduated from Tsinghua University in 1988 with two Masters degrees – in engineering and automation. Li’s career in the power industry began as a technician and gradually she rose up the ranks. When she was the deputy director of international trading division at the Ministry of Energy, she found her skills were limited in respect to the trading business and management. So she went to the US as a visiting scholar at the Sloan Business School of MIT.
When she returned, China’s power industry was developing fast but faced a shortage of investment. She suggested the State Electricity Department establish a body based outside China to attract international capital and investments as the financing vehicle. Her proposal was approved but the procedure of setting up a company proved a bureaucratic nightmare due to departmental rivalries. After two years of wrangling, she was eventually able to launch China Power International (CPI Holdings) in Hong Kong in 1994 .
The second task was to then find international investors. She called it “10 years full of twists and turns”. In 1990s, she twice tried to list in Hong Kong, but the deal didn’t materialise. But by the end of 2003, the company had revenues of Rmb972 million, and in 2004, China Power International Development finally succeeded in launching a Hong Kong IPO. At the listing ceremony, she wore a bold red dress, and earned the nickname “the red beauty” from Hong Kong’s media. China Power’s stock rose 17% on its first day.
Li was promoted to CEO and Chairwoman of CPI Group, one of the five large power-generating groups in China, with an installed capacity of over 70GW. By 2008, her new monicker was the “queen of electricity”. Under her leadership China Power diversified away from its reliance on coal-based power and increased its exposure to hydro-electric power through the acquisition of a 63% stake in Wu Ling Power, China’s leading hydro energy player. She also created China Power New Energy Development, and as its chairwoman she invested in various alternative energy projects too including wind power, solar power, biomass and tidal power. Lastly, she desired to push into nuclear power, which deemed “the most efficient energy”. To this end she announced plans to invest Rmb100 billion building a nuclear power station in Chongqing in 2010, but this was challenged by experts because of its location in an earthquake zone. The project remains in the investigation phase.
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Labelled as a member of the “red generation”, refreshingly, she never avoids the subject. “I’m lucky to be born into a good family. My father is my hero and my mother is a capable woman. But what I achieved today was by means of my hard work, starting from the bottom. Without the ability, even if you’re given the position, you’ll still be a lame duck.” Influenced by her grandmother Zhao Juntao, a famous educator, Li is a lover of China’s traditional culture (the study of which is known as guoxue ). In 2008 she published a book Jingshui Shenliu explaining her life and management philosophy, and how both benefit from an understanding of traditional Chinese culture (for more on the subject of guoxue, see WiC5). She also believes one hour of meditation is a must before going to bed.
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