Bloomberg Billionaires Index

View profiles for each of the world’s 500 richest people, see the biggest movers, and compare fortunes or track returns.

#59 Robin Li $16.9B

Random fact: Google's Sergey Brin mistook Baidu's bear's paw logo for a dog.

Overview

Li is the founder of Baidu, China's most popular internet search engine. The Beijing-based company had 731 million users by the end of 2016 and reported revenue of 74.2 billion yuan ($10.6 billion) for the same year. Its other products include Baidu Encyclopedia, the world's largest user-generated Chinese-language encyclopedia.

As of Sept. 20, 2017:
Last change +$7.77M (+0.1%)
YTD change +$5.03B (+42.2%)
Industry Technology
Biggest asset BIDU US Equity
Citizenship China
Age 48
Wealth Self-made
View net worth over:   Max 1 year 1 quarter 1 month 1 week

Relative Value

Robin Li's net worth of $16.9B can buy ...

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of U.S. existing home sales
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Net Worth Summary

Cash
Private asset
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Confidence rating:

The majority of Li's wealth is derived from his 20 percent stake in Beijing-based Baidu, China's biggest search engine, with 731 million users as of December 2016, according to its website. Li owns 16 percent of the shares directly and through Handsome Rewards, a British Virgin Islands-based holding company, and controls another 4 percent through his wife, Melissa Ma.

The couple owns about 7.1 million Class A and Class B shares together, with each share equal to 10 American depository receipts. The ADRs are publicly traded in New York on Nasdaq. Li disclaims any beneficial ownership of the Baidu shares held by his wife, Melissa Ma, according to the company's 2016 annual report and a 144 filing dated June 13, 2017. He's still credited with them in the net worth calculation because he's the founder and controlling executive of the company.

The value of his cash and other investable assets is based on an analysis of insider transactions, taxes and market performance.

Whitney Yan, a spokesman for Baidu, declined to comment on Li's wealth.

Biography

Birthdate: 11/17/1968
Family: Married, 4 children
Education: 1994, State University of New York at Buffalo, Computer Science, Master's Degree 1991, Peking University, Bachelor's Degree

Robin Li was the fourth of five children born to factory workers in Yangquan, China, a two-hour flight from Beijing. Urged by his mother to get a good education, he was accepted at the prestigious Peking University, where he graduated in 1991 with a bachelor's degree in information management. He later moved to the U.S. and earned a graduate degree in computer science at the State University of New York, Buffalo.

After university, Li spent three years developing software for Dow Jones & Co. to obtain a working visa in the U.S. In 1996, he applied for and was granted a U.S. patent for a link analysis algorithm, which ranked Internet search listings by the number of incoming links to websites. That same year, Stanford graduate students Larry Page and Sergey Brin were developing their PageRank algorithm, which they later used in the Google search engine. Li offered Dow Jones his search engine but was rejected. His boss told him: "That's not what we do."

Infoseek hired Li as an engineer at a salary of $45,000 a year in 1997. Through a friend, Eric Xu, Li and his wife, Melissa Ma, were introduced to Yahoo co-founder and billionaire Jerry Yang in Silicon Valley.

Li and Xu were inspired by Yang's success, and decided to build a Chinese search engine. They presented their business plan throughout the Bay Area, and received $1.2 million in seed money from venture capitalists Bob King, Greg Penner, Scott Walcheck and Hugo Shong.

Li and Xu returned to Beijing and received an additional $10 million in funding from IDG and EPlanet ventures. They developed a search indexing software and licensed it to Chinese Web giants Sina and Sohu.com, generating revenue each time a user ran a query.

A dispute with Sina over licensing payments led to Baidu developing its own search site in the early 2000s. Baidu charged advertisers to appear at the top of search results, and became profitable in 2004. Google provided a third of Baidu's $15 million third round of financing. Xu then left the company to start his own venture capital firm.

Baidu received takeover offers from Yahoo, Microsoft and Google in 2005 -- all for more than $1 billion -- after the company became the largest Internet search site in China. To prevent Li from leaving, Baidu board members voted to sell shares. The company had an initial public offering on Aug. 5, 2005; the shares leapt from $27 to $122 each in their first day of trading on the Nasdaq -- briefly valuing the company at more than $4 billion, and catapulting Li to billionaire status for the first time.

Li is betting on artificial intelligence and automobiles to provide much-needed engines for growth as its search business decelerates. Like Google Inc., Baidu believes it has advantages in AI that can be used to develop driver-less technology, such as internet services that adapt to each user and computers that think and respond like humans.

Milestones
  • 1968 Born to factory workers in Yangquan, Shanxi province.
  • 1991 Graduates from Peking University with bachelor's degree.
  • 1995 Works at Dow Jones & Co. developing software.
  • 1997 U.S. grants patent for link analysis, a way to rank search listings.
  • 2004 Google invests $5 million in Baidu's third round of financing.
  • 2005 Baidu board votes to stay independent and go public.
  • 2005 Nasdaq initial public offering values Baidu at $4 billion.
  • 2011 Buys 1 percent stake in online retailer 360buy Jingdong Mall.
  • 2014 Invests $10 million in IndoorAtlas to compete with Jack Ma's Alibaba.