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Portraits of major Chinese hotel groups' leaders

From China Lodging Group to Home Inns, Jin Jiang and Plateno, discover who are the leaders of the Chinese groups that gain market shares internationaly.

Described as the “Godfather of Entrepreneurship”, Qi Ji is one of the most successful serial entrepreneurs in China. Co-founder in 2005 of the China Lodging Group (first known as HangTing Hotels and now as HuaZhu Hotels), and its executive chairman since 2007, he served as chief executive officer until August 2009 and from January 2012 to May 2015. In just 10 years, he co-founded International in 1999 and served as its chief executive officer and president until December 2001. He co-founded Home Inns & Hotels Management Inc. and served as its chief executive officer from January 2001 to January 2005, when he started the China Lodging Group. All three companies successfully got an IPO in the United States and are now trading on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange, with a market value in China of over US$ 1 billion each.

Prior to Ctrip, Mr. Ji served as the chief executive officer of Shanghai Sunflower High-Tech Group, which he founded in 1997. He headed the East China Division of Beijing Zhonghua Yinghua Intelligence System Co., Ltd. from 1995 to 1997. He has served as an Independent Director of Taomee Holdings Ltd. since June 2011. Qi Ji received both his Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
Owning 30% of outstanding shares of the China Lodging Group, he has joined China’s 500 richest list with a fortune estimated over $700 million.

Born in rural Jiangsu, Ji grew up helping his family working the land and moving the harvest with a tricycle. During his study at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering mechanics and a master’s in automation, he earned extra money by assembling computers for his fellow students.

Ji started as sales manager with a state-owned computer hardware maker, ultimately setting up his own firm in 1997, Shanghai Sunflower. Two years later with Liang Jianzhang, an Oracle executive and former client, Ji approached  Shen Nanpeng, a banking veteran, and Fan Min, a travel expert, to form Ctrip, today China’s largest online travel agency.

When Ctrip grew hungry to expand into economy hotels in 2002, the founders chose Ji to head the new business, Home Inns. Business turned bad when SARS hit China in 2003 and Ji saw an opportunity for expansion, but the team wanted to control risks. Ji left in 2004 and set up China Lodging the next year, under the name of HanTing. He still sits on the board of Ctrip, which has a 9% stake in his latest endeavour. China Lodging was originally planned as a midscale chain with rooms priced 20% higher than those of Home Inns’ economy hotels due to noncompete clauses.

HanTing opened its first hotel in Kunshan, near Shanghai. “It’s too easy to make it work in Shanghai, while Kunshan is more representative of the vast China market”, Ji explains. “It’s a better place for a trial run if you are planning extensive presence across the country.” HanTing was repositionned as an economy hotel chain when the noncompete terms terminated in 2006. Within two years it opened 100 outlets.

Ji resigned from the CEO position, remaining as chairman and away from hands-on duties, a year before the company went public in 2010. “My leadership style is rather strong,” he says. “At that time things all looked in place, and I thought it’s better to step down and leave room for the the executive team.”
It didn’t take him too long to return. Net profit dived 53% in 2011 with three senior executives walking out, and Ji resumed the role of CEO in 2012. “The company was showing signs of aging, becoming insensible to market shifts, uninterested in innovation and afraid to face competition,” he recalls. His earlier Web background also taught him a need for more pricing flexibility than the hotel industry was accustomed to. 
Drastic changes occurred. The company doubled its hotels within the year to over 1,000 and strengthened its multibrand strategy, moving up to higher-end properties. The decision to move into the high-end segments was backed by the need to offset the rising cost of manpower and rent. Second, he believed rising consumption in China would lead to more consumer spending on accommodations during vacations, leading the mid-range and luxury segments to high growth.

The name was changed at that time, to China Lodging, or Huazhu in Chinese, as “HanTing is too closely associated with economy hotels and is inconsistent with our new management,” says Ji.  In December 2014, China Lodging partnered with French hotel giant Accor in what Ji calls “the unity of matrimony.” China Lodging will have the exclusive rights as a master franchisee in the Pan-China region for Accor’s lower-scale brands and it also has a 10% stake in a joint venture that operates Accor’s upscale portfolio in the region. Accor in return would acquire a 10% stake in China Lodging and a seat on its board.

Presenting himself as a road warrior, Qi Ji has stayed in hundreds of overseas hotels, sometimes changing hotels several times at a day, looking for ideas and concepts to implement in his properties. He works from a three-story Zen-style house in Shanghai, converted to an office building for senior executives from one of his residences and decorated by him, with bamboo fences around the building and minimalist wooden furniture in the hallway. Ji calls himself a wolf, always on the prowl, and was a boxer in his younger days. He still enjoys watching World War II films and television programs. “Men like wars,” he says. “It’s cathartic for those who can’t go into the little field.”

David Jian Sun has served as director and chief executive officer of Home Inns Hotel Group since December 2004. Mr. Sun has over ten years of consumer industry experience. From 2003 to December 2004, he served as vice president of operations for B&Q (China) Ltd., a subsidiary of Kingfisher plc, the third largest home improvement retail group in the world, overseeing the operation of 15 B&Q superstores in China.
From 2000 to 2003, Mr. Sun served as a vice president of marketing for B&Q (China) Ltd., leading B&Q’s market positioning and branding efforts in China. Mr. Sun holds a bachelor’s degree from Shanghai Medical University in China.

Alex Zheng, 47, a media-shy IT geek from China, set up one of the country’s biggest budget hotel chains, 7 Days Inn Group. Zheng began his career in software development. He holds a degree in computer science from Sun Yat-Sen University Lingnan College. He was the co-founder of Armitage Technologies Ltd, and was involved in the expasion of China’s top hotel management software -Pegasus Hotel Management System. He was introduced to the hospitality business in 2000 after joining Ctrip, as South China Area Manager, and Vice President of Sales & Marketing. The job gave him insight into the enormous potential of China’s tourism business and he left to tap into the boom with the 7 Days Inn economy chain, which opened in 2005. With his background in IT  he was able to look at the hotel management process from a different perspective and developed the cost killer approach whereby the hotel management and operations to run budget hotels was reduced to an absolute minimum whilst retaining overall standards and service.
In July 2013, Plateno Hotels Group was established, with Alex Zheng as its Co-Chairman,. it is a joint-venture incorporating 7 Days Inn and three American trust funds, Carlyle, Sequoia and Actis. Known as the Chief Brand Architect (CBA) of Plateno Hotels Group, Alex launched four new hotel brands: Portofino Hotel, Lavande Hotel, James Joyce Coffetel and ZMAX Hotel. Alex is confident to grow the group’s current 180,000 hotel rooms to 600,000 in the coming 5 years.

Yu MinLiang Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Jinjiang International Group
Mr. Yu served as General Manager of Shanghai East Asia Hotel, Shanghai Huashan Hotel, Shanghai Yangtze Hotel Co., Ltd., Yangtze Hotel Limited, Shanghai Jin Jiang International Hotels Development Company Limited and Shanghai New Asia Company.

He has more than 20 years experience in hotel management. He joined the Jinjiang Group in 1984. He served as Chairman of the Board of Yangtze Hotel Limited,  Shanghai Jinjiang International Hotels Development Company Limited and Shanghai New Asia Company.
He serves as the Chairman of the Board of Shanghai Jin Jiang International Hotels (Group) Company Limited and has been its Executive Director since September 25, 2012. Mr. Yu is also Head of the Supervisory Board at Shanghai Airlines Co., Ltd., since 2006. He served as Chairman and Secretary of the PCC committee of Jinjiang (Group) Co., Ltd. 

He served as an Assistant of the Party Secretary, Deputy and Secretary of the Party committee of Shanghai Xinya (Group) Stock Co., Ltd., and Shanghai Xinya (group) Co., Ltd.
Economist and CPC member. Mr. Yu obtained a Master’s Degree in Economics from Fudan University. He oversaw negociations that enabled the group to take over 50% of Interstate in the US and 100% of Groupe du Louvre in Europe, bringing Louvre Hotels Group’s brands into the group’s portfolio.

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