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Jean Liu is the unstoppable force behind China’s standard-setting ride service

Written by Julianna Wu, James Chan Published on     3 mins read

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Seven years ago, friends and family tried to dissuade Jean Liu from joining Didi. Since then, her imprint has come to define Didi’s strategy and global presence.

“‘Taxi!’ Caught a cab in Beijing this morning with Didi Chuxing’s Jean Liu.”

On May 16, 2016, a week after Apple cut a check to invest in Didi, Tim Cook visited China and tweeted about his taxi-hailing experience in the capital city.

Cook’s tweet not only introduced the Chinese ride-hailing service to his followers around the world but also sent a clear message to the tech space and put Didi’s main competitor at the time, Uber, on notice: Didi was loaded and ready to burn.

Like several other Chinese tech companies, Didi’s fast-paced maturation draws awe and amazement. Founded in 2012, Didi was once tangled in fierce competition with domestic rival Kuaidi. But by the end of 2016, it managed to pull ahead as China’s go-to ride service by acquiring and absorbing its counterpart.

The power broker behind this deal was Jean Liu, a former Goldman Sachs executive who joined Didi in 2014. She is the same woman flashing a brilliant smile besides Cook in the photo he tweeted.

“Without Jean Liu, Didi would not have been able to secure Apple’s USD 1 billion investment,” said Zhu Xiaohu of GSV Ventures, one of Didi’s earliest investors, in an interview with FT Chinese.

Zhu also acknowledged Liu’s role in the historical Didi-Kuaidi tie-up. “Liu hoped to broker the merger of Didi and Kuaidi at the beginning because she had close ties with Tencent and Alibaba,” he said, referring to two powerhouses that had backed Didi and Kuaidi respectively. “The first merger talks between Didi and Kuaidi in 2013 were led by Liu.”

Liu’s family commands incredible influence in China’s business and tech sector. Her father is the founder of Lenovo, and one of her cousins was an executive at Uber China and then ByteDance. Jean Liu herself is recognized as one of the few women leaders in China’s tech scene, and she is among the most successful: under her management as COO and then president, Didi has gone from a local taxi-hailing solution to a multinational mobility corporation that’s valued at nearly USD 100 billion.

Yet beyond these accomplishments, Jean Liu is a hero in other ways: she is a single mother with three children and a breast cancer survivor.

Liu never let the demanding nature of working at the top of Didi’s hierarchy get in the way of being present for her kids. Without fail, she would leave the office at 9:00 p.m. and head home, make sure her children were in bed and asleep, then head downstairs to meet with teammates an hour before midnight.

In September 2015, Liu was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery to remove the tumor. Even so, she told employees in an email, “I will be working from home for some time in the future, especially during therapy.” She reminded them to take care of their personal health, eat well, and learn to be more relaxed.

Liu’s resilience as a leader has steered Didi through thick and thin, even when there were several cases of attacks and murders perpetrated by drivers who used Didi’s app to pick up victims in 2018.

“For an eight-year-old organization to move forward, we need to constantly use new incentive mechanisms in the team to make everyone feel like its day one, and always maintain the passion and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship,” Liu said in an interview with Tencent News.

For more about Jean Liu’s leadership within Didi, check out this video:

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