Jean Liu: She Was Asked to Sing Céline Dion in a Job Interview, Now She’s Uber’s Greatest Threat in China

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Jean Liu, 37, is the president of Didi Dache, Uber’s biggest competitor in China’s mobile-based transportation services market.                   

Liu, the daughter of Lenovo founder Liu Chuanzhi and the granddaughter of Liu Gushu, a former top banker at Bank of China, earned a bachelor’s degree at Peking University and a master’s degree at Harvard University, both in computer science.

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According to Week in China, Liu was inspired by Bill Gates’ 1996 publication “The Road Ahead” to study computer science. Upon graduation, Liu accepted a position as a junior analyst at Goldman Sachs after an extensive 18 round interview process in 2002. She reportedly had to sing the classic “Titanic” song “My Heart Will Go On” in a surprise request during the last round of interviews. She told Sina Finance:

“The happiest day in my life was when I received the offer from Goldman Sachs.” 

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Liu claimed to work up to 140 hours a week at the firm where she stayed for 12 years. She became one of the youngest managing directors in Goldman Sachs Principal Investment Area in Asia before joining Didi Dache in 2014. As the chief operation officer of Didi, Liu oversaw public relations, branding, government relations and human resources for the company’s new Didi Black executive transportation service.

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Liu was later appointed as the company’s president in February 2015, which put her in charge of general operations. Didi Dache, which was founded in 2012, claims to have an estimated 87 percent of the car-hailing service market share in China. According to PR News Wire, Chen Wei, founder and CEO of Didi Dache, said of Liu:

“We welcome more world-class talents to join us as we continue to build a world-class enterprise. Jean Liu is the very person with the talent that we are looking for. During Jean’s first half year in Didi, she completed Didi’s biggest round of funding of $700 million, and led Didi Black, PR and GR teams to a new level.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 1.46.32 PMDidi Dache was the result of a merger between Tencent-backed Didi Dache and Alibaba-backed Kuaidi Dache in early 2015. After their merger, the two companies claimed to have delivered three million private rides in China combined.

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During an interview with ReCode in 2015, Liu delved into the rivalry between Didi and Uber. She said:

“We welcome all fair competition in the interest of sportsmanship. But we have been through a lot of knife fights to get to our dominant market position. When you have scale, you have operational efficiency, much more frequent orders, so no one is capable of doing what we do now. No one knows the Chinese people better, and our local knowledge is impossible to replicate.

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“I think Uber has a short-term strategy to subsidize heavily to get drivers and passengers […]  But, if I were them, I would think very carefully. It is a highly competitive market. It’s already a healthy ecosystem. We have five million car owners; we do insurance, car sales.”

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Didi’s business model differs from that of Uber’s in that they incorporate the taxi industry in their business rather than disrupting or displacing it. Liu told The Wall Street Journal:

“We provide a comprehensive range of products. We are trying to serve every Chinese in every situation. We launched taxi service three years ago, and later we figured [taxis are] in such a big shortage that there is a lot of unmet demand on that platform. Then we provided a private-car service to fulfill those demands […]

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“Then we figured there are a lot of drivers who want to earn extra money. They can provide a driving service. That’s why we launched the chauffeur business. So our philosophy here is you don’t really need seven individual apps to fulfill your commute need. You just need one. That one app will make sure you will get a ride anywhere in three minutes.”

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The Chinese taxi-hailing service’s valuation was approximately $8.75 billion in 2015. According to Liu, there is a huge demand and market for such transportation services among the 800 million urban people in China.

“Currently only 30 million people ride a taxi on a daily basis. And if you’re counting the private-car service, maximum total I think is 50 million. Buses account for more than 200 million. And private car, self-drive, counts for 260 million rides. So that’s a trillion-dollar market.”

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In May 2016, Didi announced that it had accepted $1 billion in funding from Apple as a part of a fundraising round that is expected to reach $2 billion. The investment news is good publicity for Didi following bad press about rape, murder and robberies committed by the company’s drivers. In reaction to the highly publicized crimes, Didi enacted driver suspensions and a new emergency button for riders.

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According to Fortune, Liu met with Apple CEO Tim Cook at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino in late April. Though she didn’t release specific details about the deal, she said that the companies would mutually benefit each other “on product, technology, marketing, and many other levels.”

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She was recently elected by popular vote to be one of the official Olympic torchbearers for the Rio 2016 Olympics. Liu will stand alongside eight other Olympics torchbearers in Iguazu that includes actor and philanthropist Jiang Yiyan and celebrated pianist Lang Lang. Liu said:

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support, which I see as an encouragement for both DiDi and myself. We strongly believe that technology will make the world a better place; but only with great perseverance, resilience and courage, exactly what the Olympic spirit calls for.”

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