Internet & Tech

Bonus season

Big payouts for top Tencent staff, but less welcome news at Baidu


Best paid got nearly $130 million

Canning Fok, the managing director of CK Hutchison and a longtime colleague of Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing, has been dubbed “the king of the working class” in the Hong Kong media. Why? Since 1999 he has never earned less than HK$100 million ($12.8 million) a year.

Last year Fok’s title as the highest-paid executive in the city was lost, however. He made HK$227 million in 2019, according to CK Hutchison’s latest annual report. Martin Lau Chiping, who chairs Hong Kong-listed Tencent’s investment committee, earned Rmb355 million ($50 million) in salary and bonus during the same period. And Lau isn’t even the highest paid staffer at Tencent. According to its wage structure disclosure, one employee made nearly HK$1 billion last year while another took home no less than HK$860 million. (Local regulators require listed firms to disclose the remuneration of their directors, as well as the emolument bands of the highest-paid individuals.)

The mainland media is speculating that the new “king of the working class” might be Zhang Xiaolong, president of Weixin Group, which oversees China’s most popular all-in-one app WeChat (the 50 year-old is pretty good at golf too, see WiC428). Ren Yuxin, 44, who is in charge of Tencent’s online gaming division, could be the other high-earner in the annual report.

In a similar fashion to the fascination (and envy) triggered by reports of the paygrades in the investment banking sector (particularly in the pre-2008 boom era), the pay of China’s internet bosses is becoming a bigger topic for discussion too.

Tencent’s annual report is being picked over by thousands of onlookers, with one widely-read contribution to Zhihu, China’s equivalent of Quora, noting that Tencent had 62,885 employees last year, implying an average monthly salary of about Rmb70,000. “I would need to work for another six years before even dreaming of reaching such a level,” a junior auditor at a leading accounting firm remarked.

Robust growth in the internet sector has made it one of the most attractive career options for young graduates, although they must also embrace the ‘996’ working culture (i.e. in the office from 9am to 9pm, six days a week, see WiC449).

A fast-growing industry delivers more promising career prospects, and its higher salaries are said to be one of the better ways of discouraging improper or corrupt behaviour.

That said, the internet sector has come in for more scrutiny over the past fortnight, despite being less affected by President Xi Jinping’s eight year-old anti-graft campaign than many other professions.

Last week search engine giant Baidu reported that it had reported Wei Fang, a vice president since 2018, to the police. The senior executive had “not only deviated from the company’s culture of honesty, trampled on the company’s professional ethics bottom line, but also touched the red line of the law,” Baidu’s Professional Ethics Committee said in a statement.

The allegations gainst Wei, who has held positions in 15 different Baidu units, are unclear. But there were further shockwaves when Baidu’s much bigger rival Alibaba announced action against one of its own senior executives a few days later.

Alibaba removed Jiang Fan – president of its popular marketplaces Taobao and Tmall – from its coveted list of “partners” (the two dozen or so people who hold most of the decision-making power). The 35 year-old had been tipped as a potential candidate to become Alibaba’s CEO but his demotion came after his wife warned star e-commerce influencer Zhang Dayi to stay away from her husband in an angry post online (for more see this week’s “Entertainment”).

Zhang is a co-founder of the talent agency Ruhnn, which went public in New York last year (see WiC448). Alibaba invested in Ruhnn in 2016, although it says that Jiang wasn’t involved in the decision to do so, and that no preferential treatment for Ruhnn or Zhang’s Taobao and Tmall stores were discovered during an investigation.

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