Retail in Asia

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Who is Forbes Asia’s 2016 businessman of the year?

Cheng Wei, the founder of Chinese ride-service Didi Chuxing, Uber’s counterpart, is bespectacled and cherubic. With his humble demeanor, the 33-year-old can easily pass as a fresh college graduate. But this summer Cheng shot to global fame for a single reason: He became the only entrepreneur to stop Uber’s relentless advance. Uber’s Kalanick sold the company’s China unit to Didi for $1 billion in cash, along with an 18% ownership stake in the combined entity, which is valued at $35 billion. Under Cheng the company attracted 300 million users in 400 Chinese cities in just four years. Didi commands 85% of China’s ride-sharing market, which Beijing research firm Analysys International estimates will reach 122 billion yuan ($17.7 billion) by end of this year and 286 billion yuan in 2018. SEE ALSO: Why Uber’s Chinese nemesis Didi Chuxing just raised $7 billion more  For Cheng’s role as operator and consolidator, he is FORBES ASIA’s 2016 Businessman of the Year . Didi attracted local talents and investors because Cheng is humble and open to their suggestions. In 2014 Cheng hired Jean Liu from Goldman Sachs, where she was a managing director in Asia Pacific, as the company’s president. Born in a small town in the landlocked Jiangxi Province, Cheng didn’t excel at China’s all-important college entrance examinations. In the end he got into Beijing University of Chemical Technology, considered second-tier to the prestigious Peking and Tsinghua Universities, to major in business administration. After graduation Cheng went through half a dozen jobs, including manager at a foot-massage chain and a mobile-phone component supplier. A life-changing opportunity came in 2005. He grew determined to work in China’s burgeoning Internet sector and came knocking at Alibaba’s Shanghai office with his résumé in hand. “Alibaba said, “We want young men like you,’ ” he recalls. At the e-commerce group, Cheng proved good at selling advertisements to local merchants. Within six years he was made a manager at Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial in Beijing.