As he travels across China, Lu Ming, Greater China development director for Kraft Foods International, often meets fellow members of the Class of '77. To break the ice, he finds out where they were during the Cultural Revolution. "Even if I didn't know him," says Lu, "if he has a similar background, we can quickly establish a rapport."
Like so many others of his generation, Lu, 37, endured tremendous hardship in the Cultural Revolution. His father, a philosophy professor, was sent to a labor camp and killed. With his mother and sister, the young Lu left home in the central city of Wuhan and went to work in the countryside. He toiled 16-hour days in the fields yet still found time to study at night. In 1977, Lu passed the new university exams and entered an engineering institute in Wuhan. After his graduation in 1982, the government sent him to Leuven University in Belgium to get a master's degree in business.
He returned to state-owned China International Trust & Investment Corp. (CITIC), managing its extensive investments in resources and building materials in 1985. He then ran CITIC's $100 million steel mill in Claymont, Del. That's where Kraft discovered him in 1993. Now, as the company's Hong Kong-based business-development manager, Lu negotiates joint ventures in China, where Kraft already produces powdered drinks, dairy products, and instant coffee.
Through alumni of the Class of '77, Lu has gained insights into key political and business figures. "My generation has reached a very high level in many companies," he says. "I know their motivation very well." In a country where connections are all-important, the Class of '77 is fast becoming the ultimate network.