Inside China Entrepreneur Club – rubbing elbows with Ma and Jianlin

It is definitely the most important business network club in China. Is it also the club that you probably never will be able to join. It consists of 46 of China's top business leaders, including the likes of Jack Ma (Alibaba) and property tycoon Wang Jianlin. Club China takes a look inside the China Entrepreneur Club, the richest and most influential business network in China.

The China Entrepreneur Club was established in 2006. It is extremely difficult to join and new members are rarely admitted. Membership candidates need to have an exemplary track record of business success must be seen as being of irreproachable behaviour and must share the club's values. The official CEC statement on this says: “The China Entrepreneur Club is the premiere business leader platform in China. Established by 31 of China's most influential entrepreneurs, economists and diplomats in 2006, the CEC is a hub for Chinese entrepreneurial exchange, cooperation, and international collaboration. As a private non-profit organization, the CEC is committed to nurturing entrepreneurship and business integrity while paving the future of sustainable economic and social development.”

Who are they?

CEC member companies are economic powerhouses, with 46 dynamic companies earning a total annual gross income of over two trillion RMB. The club has recently elected their new Executive Board Members. Liu Chuanzhi, founder of Lenovo, was elected president of the China Entrepreneur Club. Ma Weihua, Chairman, is the former President of the China Merchants Bank. Jack Ma (Alibaba) and Wang Jianlin (Chairman of Wanda Group, richest man in China) were both elected Executive Board Member of CEC. So were the Liu Donghua of Zhisland, Liu Yonghao of China Minsheng Banking Corp and Guo Guangchang, Chairman of Fosun Group. By the way, not every member is a tycoon. Politicians, academics and other advisers join China’s top business leaders in CEC.

What do they do?

The billionaires of China have meetings at which they discuss business in China. They go on international trips, as a group. Imagine Europe’s and US’ business leaders go on a trip together – a highly unlikely event. CEC-members visited the US in 2011, the UK in 2012 and France and Belgium in 2013. During these field trips, presidents and prime ministers were keen to get to know this interesting club of China's business elite.

CEC-members also have social meetings, they go on field trips together and play golf regularly. The CEC website shows photos of recent events – CEC is a transparent organisation. The site features photos of a runway show in which members participate as models, having lots of laughs about their catwalk performances. In a video of this event, we witness e-commerce billionaire Jack Ma walking towards end of the catwalk, showing a business suit to the audience. For a moment, he looks serious, and then suddenly decides to pose as a kung fu fighter. The crowd in the hotel ballroom venue loves it and gives him a big hand.

The ‘Fashion Show modelled by China entrepreneurs’ on the Annual Summit of Green Companies in China shows one of the unexpected sides of the CEC: in between serious meetings and discussions the top business leaders of China often just like to have fun.

CEC also serves an important feedback network and, in a way, a safety net. CEC also offers advice to its members. The club offers a forum where company founders can meet and share ideas. Members also offer support to each other when one of them encounters difficulties.

Rooted in history

Insiders claim that the reasons for establishing a business club like this are partly rooted in history. The explanation they offer is that after decades of ruling by Mao Tse Tung and state-controlled economy, the private sector experienced difficult times. After the Cultural Revolution and the big changes that came with it, entrepreneurs were for a long time viewed with distrust. China’s business tycoons still seem to struggle with their image. Some become patrons for art and social activities, others sponsor business think tanks and fund start-ups and social enterprises. Others join the China Entrepreneur Club, to show care for the world, for China and for entrepreneurship and business integrity, sustainable economic and social development.

The BBC made a documentary about the CEC club. On BBC.com, former CEC chairman Liu Chuanzhi says the club has a role to play: "We believe private companies of a certain magnitude, like ours, have the responsibility and obligation to help enable the private sector enjoy healthier development in China".

Image by China Entrepreneur Club

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