Fortune Global Forum 2017 and Fortune Brainstorm Tech International 2017 Recap

Openness and Innovation Drive Economic Growth in China and Worldwide

The influential Fortune Global Forum was held in Guangzhou last week, from December 6-8, bringing world leaders and the heads of the world’s largest companies to China to discuss how openness and innovation are shaping the global economy.

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The important role of business in promoting globalization and inclusiveness, along with China’s emergence as a global innovator, were key themes of the invitation-only event. With three full days of interviews and roundtables featuring many of the world’s most interesting and influential leaders, the 2017 Forum left us with plenty to think about. Some highlights include:

  • Alibaba’s Jack Ma urges business to take the lead by building connections that facilitate globalization and ensuring that every nation benefits. Trade and peace are linked, he says. Respect, patience and entrepreneurial managers are key for international companies in China. Watch the replay:

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  • Apple’s Tim Cook would rather be “in the arena” than watching from the side-lines, even when that means being criticized. He looks for areas of commonality on which to build shared goals, such as China’s world-leading positions on climate change and poverty eradication. Watch the replay:

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  • Pony Ma spoke about the value of openness. Tencent’s policy is to focus on communications (WeChat) and digital content as part of an ecosystem of partners, with which it does not compete. He contrasts this supportive approach with rival Alibaba. Watch the replay: 

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  • Ford Motor’s Bill Ford cautions against getting too excited about autonomous vehicles. The necessary elements—smart cars, smart cities and answers to ethical and social issues—will not be in place soon. Ford will skip semi-autonomous systems and work on fully self-driving cars.

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  • Having dropped the name Wal-Mart Stores for Walmart, Greg Penner welcomes digital competition to help the firm remain relevant. In China, it is investing in innovative delivery services and food safety and seeking to deliver a seamless experience across both in-store and online operations.

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  • Carlos Brito told us how AB InBev captured 20% of the China beer market by focusing on high-end customers and delivering engaging entertainment experiences. China is now exporting best practices around the world, he says.
  • Ofo’s Zhang Siding addressed a new challenge for bike-sharing companies: pile-ups of poorly parked and damaged bicycles. Ofo has introduced a credit score system to encourage good behavior and studies usage data to redistribute bicycles to better meet user demand.
  • Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau talked about the potential for a bilateral trade deal with China. He called China a “world leader” on environmental policy—a stance that Canadians admire. The PM Trudeau also announced that Canada will host the 2018 Fortune Global Forum.
  • Top Chinese officials, including Vice Premier Wang Yang, also addressed the Forum, championing globalization and articulating China’s commitment to leadership in the new global economy.

With creative entrepreneurs, government support for start-ups and a population willing to try new things, China is now a global hub of innovation. This was epitomized during the Fortune Global Forum by a startling night-time display which saw a record 1,180 drones perform in an orchestrated light show above the city. One operator controlled all of the smart eHang drones from a single console, using technology developed and built in Guangzhou.


China’s Rise as an Innovation Powerhouse

The first-ever Fortune Brainstorm Tech International conference was held in Guangzhou from December 5-6, bringing innovation economy leaders from around the world to the southern Chinese city to coincide with the Fortune Global Forum. The conference explored China’s burgeoning innovation revolution, which is seeing home-grown innovation and mass implementation in fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), social media, biotech, fintech, virtual reality, automotive, the sharing economy, and mobile.

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Jay Walker serial entrepreneur and founder of, said that real innovation is a tension between the old and the new that creates significant change. China has a multi-thousand-year legacy, and disagreeing with the old is not culturally correct here. As this is reconciled with the emerging culture of today’s China, the society that has historically been the world’s most inventive is re-claiming is place as an innovation leader. Watch the replay:

Charles Hayes of innovation consultancy firm IDEO has seen this shift as well: many Chinese CEOs today see themselves not as the person with all the answers, but as someone who is good at asking the right questions and enabling people to deliver answers. This collaborative approach is well suited to the digital world, and to facilitating the design and innovation that can power China’s next stage of growth.

Other speakers agreed, and pointed out that Chinese entrepreneurs also have other advantages:

  • The vast scale of the market, which enables economies of scale for bike-sharing, for example
  • People’s enthusiasm for new tech, which has allowed China to take the lead in mobile payments
  • A lack of legacy brick-and-mortar infrastructure, which has seen consumers embrace e-commerce
  • Government support for startups via access to funding and other resources

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The Fortune China Innovation Award

Co-established by Fortune and the municipal government of Guangzhou, this new Award attracted over 100 entrants since it was announced in May. Fifteen tech start-ups were selected to present their ideas at Brainstorm TECH, with five winners announced at the Fortune Global Forum.

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  • BZN (保准牛), an up-and-coming insurance platform, won the e-commerce and fintech award and was named Fortune China Innovator of the Year. It covers what traditional insurance companies cannot: new and fragmented scenarios such as people’ rides on shared bikes and takeout deliveries.
  • EpimAb (上海岸生物科技), a Shanghai-based bio-pharm R&D firm, won the award for healthcare tech. Its innovative FIT-Ig technology allows the creation of novel bi-specific antibody therapeutics and could provide new options for the treatment of life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
  • Saphlux, a company commercializing semi-polar gallium nitride, was the winner in the mobility and green tech category. Its next-generation materials are set to revolutionize sold-state lighting.
  • Chaitin (长亭科技), an AI-based, semantic-analysis-powered firewall web application that more effectively protects enterprise networks from hackers, was the AI and robotics winner.
  • Yixue Education (乂学教育), developer of the first self-adaptive learning engine for online education in China, won the award for new media, entertainment and education. The firm uses AI to develop individually tailored education programs.

If it wasn’t clear before the first Fortune Brainstorm Tech International, it certainly is now: China is casting off its reputation as a technology copy-cat and innovating across many different industries.