Li Becomes China’s 2nd-Richest Man as Baidu Shares Climb

Robin Li, founder of China’s top Internet search engine Baidu Inc., has become the country’s second-richest man after his shares rose 63 percent this year.

Li’s net worth advanced to $11.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He overtook Hangzhou Wahaha Group Chairman Zong Qinghou, who is worth $11.8 billion and was once China’s wealthiest individual just three months ago. Li trails Dalian Wanda Group founder and developer Wang Jianlin.

Baidu has climbed more than 50 percent on the Nasdaq since July 16 when the Beijing-based company said it would acquire Chinese mobile app developer 91 Wireless Websoft Ltd. The $1.9 billion purchase, together with four acquisitions Li has made over the past year, helped Baidu sap its primary challenger Qihoo 360 Technology Co. as more Internet users tap smartphones.

“With aggressive investment and strong execution, the company has built a comprehensive product offering in mobile phones through both internal R&D and strategic acquisitions,” Fawne Jiang and Long Lin, analysts at Brean Capital LLC wrote in an October 30 report. They have a “buy” rating on the stock.

Baidu bought a stake in group-buying site for $160 million in August and Internet video business PPStream Inc. in June for $370 million.

The company, whose name is derived from an ancient Chinese poem, is buying companies to accelerate its transition to mobile devices, where traffic is at least doubling annually, Li said in a televised interview with “Bloomberg West” last month.

Online Travel

Qunar Cayman Islands Ltd., a Chinese travel-booking service controlled by Baidu, raised $167 million in a U.S. initial public offering earlier this month. Qunar, which means “where to go” in Chinese, has risen more than 70 percent since its debut.

Baidu is China’s second-largest Internet company by market value after Hong Kong-listed Tencent Holdings Ltd. Tencent Chairman Ma Huateng has a net worth of $10.8 billion and is China’s fourth-richest man, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Li, also known as Li Yanhong in Chinese, is 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.

U.S. Educated

He later moved to the U.S. and earned a graduate degree in computer science at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He worked at Dow Jones & Co. in Princeton, New Jersey, developing software while researching a link analysis algorithm that ranked Internet searches. In 1997, at the same time Google’s founders were developing their search algorithm, Li took his research to his boss at Dow Jones, who rejected it.

“I was told: That’s not what we do,” Li said in the Bloomberg TV interview in October. So he left Dow Jones to work for Infoseek in California. In 2000, Li returned to China and co-founded Baidu in Beijing.

Nearly all of Li’s wealth stems from his 20.8 percent stake in Baidu. The shares are owned directly by Li and his wife Melissa Dongmin Ma and through Handsome Rewards Ltd., a British Virgin Islands-based holding company.

The 45-year-old billionaire also owns 1 percent of 360buy Jingdong Mall, a closely held Chinese online retailer.

Wang Jianlin became China’s richest man in August, vaulting over Zong. He leads the country’s biggest commercial land developer and is accelerating acquisitions overseas.

The Bloomberg Billionaires Index is a daily ranking of the world’s richest people. Each Bloomberg Billionaire profile contains a detailed analysis of how that person’s fortune is tallied. The index measures the world’s wealthy based on changes in markets, the economy and Bloomberg reporting. Each net worth figure is updated every business day at 5:30 p.m. in New York.

Stakes in publicly traded companies are valued using the share’s most recent closing price. Valuations are converted to U.S. dollars at current exchange rates.