Internet giant shares insights at LBS

Senior staff from Chinese internet giant Tencent visited London Business School to present an open class on the WeChat platform on 16th May 2019.


The event on the eve of the China Business Forum was an opportunity to learn about the social networking application, turned a multi-purpose and payments platform. Today WeChat boasts more than a billion monthly active users, of whom a half spend at least 90 minutes a day on WeChat, with many spending even four to five hours a day.

Representatives from WeChat parent Tencent also had the opportunity to hear the presentation of the School's first case study on China's digital economy. The forthcoming 'Innovation and Agility at Tencent’s WeChat' has been co-authored by Professor Julian Birkinshaw with Sloan Fellow Dickie Liang-Hong Ke (pictured)(co-founder of Future Plus Education Technologies) and Enrique de Diego (MBA2017) Consultant with Bain and Company.

The case analyses the evolution of Chinese digital giant Tencent, one of the top ten listed companies in the world. The study focuses on Tencent platform WeChat, the social networking and lifestyle App created in 2010. It describes the emergence and growth of WeChat, and how it came to dominate large parts of daily life in China.

At the open class, case study co-author and Sloan Fellow Dickie Liang-Hong Ke described the genesis of the “milestone” study and some of its key features.

“Almost three years ago Professor Julian Birkinshaw invited me to speak on strategic agility,” he told the audience on Thursday. “When I spoke about Tencent the students were inspired and there was a lively debate that prompted me to want to write a case study about WeChat (with Julian and Enrique).

“At first it was a desktop study but that approach doesn’t give you the full picture. The strength of this study is that we had such great access to most of the senior executives, the founding members of the team, and the founding leader Allen Zhang.”

The paper explores whether innovation in China is different to the West and how WeChat grew from 10 employees to 2000 today. How the payments system and the leadership evolved with the scale of the organisation. It also addresses whether WeChat can keep innovating, the opportunities ahead and the potential for itself to be disrupted.

The open class heard from Bradley Mo, Senior Director of Industry Application, WeChat Open Platform, who offered valuable insights into WeChat’s Official Account and Mini Program initiatives. WeChat Official Accounts give organisations a homepage that can send out push notifications within the WeChat ecosystem and the Mini Program gives them apps integrated within this vast and engaged audience.

“People’s lives are changing without them noticing,” observed Mo. “People are going cashless and official accounts are enabling companies to serve people better than ever before. Many people are getting rich of the back of the work we have done. It all boils down to the value to users WeChat gives you.”

Dave Fan, Senior Director of WeChat Pay, spoke about the spectacular growth of its payments system and its origins within the Chinese custom of cash gifts in red envelopes at Chinese New Year.

“WeChat is a low cost way of distributing a service and connecting people,” he said. “Traditionally when you pay, that’s the end of the transaction but on WeChat Pay you build a connection with the customer. WeChat Pay closes the loop and enables further transactions.”

Payments also offer cross border payments giving European and American companies access to a huge market without having to register in China as a company. It started with user demand from Chinese tourists and is now available, with the same open ecosystem, in 49 countries and regions and 16 currencies.

The open class also heard from Monica Zheng (pictured below), Marketing Director of WeChat Pay International Business, who spoke about targeting Chinese tourists and Michelle Xue, Manager of Industry Application, WeChat Open Platform, who spoke in detail about methods of appealing to the Chinese domestic market. It concluded with a talk from Abi Imasekha, International and Commercial Marketing Manager at Harvey Nicholls, who gave a detailed account of how the high end Knightsbridge department store is using WeChat to attract Chinese travellers.

WeChat Monica Zheng