China's Pan Ning

As Chinese companies try to figure out their role in the new economy, many are looking to Pan Ning for lessons. The 61-year-old chairman of Guangdong Kelon Electrical Holdings Co. runs one of China's most successful companies. Since Kelon is owned by the village government of Rongqi in southern Guangdong province, Pan is free of interference from Beijing. His simple philosophy: Listen to the market and respond to its needs.

Now, with rivals close on his heels, Pan is determined to keep China's No.1 refrigerator maker one step ahead. He has even hired a U.S. ad agency, Leo Burnett, to burnish Kelon's image among consumers. And the former party cadre is acquiring appliance makers and suppliers in other provinces, both to become a national player and for economies of scale. He won't settle for second place.

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