The World Economic Forum nominates a remarkable group of "Young Global Leaders" and facilitates regular gatherings where they connect with one another and talk about weighty matters. I intend no irony here: They're really a high-caliber bunch. Today, with the blessing of WEF organizers, I crashed their welcome lunch event at the Nikko Hotel in Dalian. I headed over with my buddy Hanson Cheah, CEO of Silkroad Capital, who's been a YGL for three years now and with whom I shared a ride into town from the airport.
I saw a couple of ex-media guys I've known for several years. Thomas Crampton, right, formerly of the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, is about to move to Beijing with his lovely new bride, who he met in Paris, he tells me. He's coming to Beijing for a few months to bone up on his Mandarin before heading to Hong Kong ("where Mandarin will be very useful," as I observed). He'll be taking up an "entrepreneur in residence" with a Hong Kong investor, and I'm anxious to see what he dreams up.
Also saw Joshua Cooper Ramos, left, who was a notoriously fast-rising star at the Time organization some years back, and who when last I saw him--some years ago now, in Beijing--was still an editor-at-large for Time. He's now MD for Kissinger Associates. My, my.
Hanson and I sat down with Feng Jun, president of massive Chinese consumer electronics maker Aigo, who told me about his strategy for penetrating the U.S. market--something that's been in the works for some time now. He's now planning on selling his very slick personal media players and other nicely designed gadgets in Canada first, and will move into the U.S. later next year.
When I got back from the buffet my table had filled up, and looking across from me I saw Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. We started chatting about Virgil Griffith's WikiScanner, which is the latest amusing saga in the tale of Wikipedia, now being chronicled by my friend and fellow Beijing resident Andrew Lih, whose book on Wikipedia I'm anxious to read. I asked Jimmy whether he'd plans to be in Beijing next week: I told him I'd recently invited our mutual friend Andrew to attend a dinner my buddy Rich was putting together for Cory Doctorow, science fiction writer and
the one of the genius geniuses behind Boingboing.net.
"I'm Cory Doctorow," said the bespectacled fellow to my left (and pictured to yours), who surprised and embarrassed me: I've seen photos but failed to recognize him. I should have known, though: I'd overheard talking serious geek speak with Mr. Wales a few minutes earlier. And sure enough, there he was. He pulled out a Lumix, one model down from the one I used to snap this picture, and we sung the praises of the Leica-lensed Panasonic digicam that everyone seems to like these days. We then got into a long chat about Chinese electronics malls, portable storage media (Cory dragged out a well-worn pencil case full of 128- and 256M SD cards, which he says he now hands out like floppy disks), his fiancee Alice's pregnancy, and his plans for their post-partem wedding (which will evidently be presided over by a magician reciting Lewis Carroll poetry!). The guy's amazing--just what I expected him to be. First-rate mind with a childlike curiosity you can see is always in play.
Later we were joined by Ozwald Boateng, Ghanaian-born, London-bred designer who--though as a singularly unfashionable person, I only learned this from Hanson--is a major name in men's fashion. "I have a friend from Ghana who just worships you," Hanson told him. "I lost my luggage and didn't have a suit in London, so he took me to your shop and I bought the same one you're wearing," he said. Nice suit, though Ozwald--slim and a good 188 cm tall--is one of those lucky bastards who would look good in just about anything.
He was very enthusiastic about the YGL organization. "When you reach a certain level of success, you start getting invitations to all these groups. They want you on this board or on that advisory council. Most of these, they put you to sleep. But I attended the last YGL event in London, and it was actually really brilliant," he said. Hanson, who is a consummate networker, put it another way: "Being a part of YGL is like having your own personal board of directors," he said. "These people are really smart, and they really know what's going on."