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Ma Weihua: Do philanthropic work in a wolflike spirit


He once led one of the most influential commercial banks, making bold moves as he saw fit on the capital market. During his 15-year tenure as president, China Merchants Bank developed from a small bank headquartered in Shenzhen with a staff of 30 into the 6thlargest commercial bank in China and the 44thlargest bank in the world, which had a staff of over 50,000 distributed among over 1,000 outlets across the country.

He is Ma Weihua, former President of China Merchants Bank, and one of the most innovative bankers in China. To everyone's surprise, Ma Weihua took up the philanthropic cause the day he left China Merchants Bank. Now he is the leader of a philanthropic organization. What made him take up the philanthropic cause immediately after leaving the field of business, and what fresh new ideas will he bring to the philanthropic cause as a former prominent figure in the financial sector? Ma Weihua recently gave an interview to reporters of Nanfang Daily, on which occasion he talked about philanthropy and his experience in doing philanthropic work and his recommendations on how Shenzhen should develop.

About Shenzhen, Ma Weihua is full of confidence, saying, "Combining financial services and technology will give impetus to the healthy development of Shenzhen. Because the latest technology, best international capital and most excellent talents gather in Shenzhen, the city will enjoy greater potential for development than any other city in China."

Rejoice Inwardly

Turn to Philanthropic Work and Education after Retirement

Ma Weihua recalls that he had already engaged extensively in philanthropic work even before he retired from China Merchants Bank. The bank released its corporate social responsibility report quite early, ranking among the earliest to do so among China's listed companies. The bank has been alleviating poverty in two counties in Yunnan Province for nearly 20 years, sending 4 branch leaders every year there to serve as deputy county heads with a view to leading the local people out of poverty and therefore achieving the goal of helping them acquire the ability to get rich by themselves after sending capable leaders there for some time.

"One day I went to Yunnan University to teach and some students gathered around my dais, saying, 'We all are your employees.'" It turned out that these students had gone to college with the aid of China Merchants Bank. What has left the deepest impression in his mind is Zang Jingui, a branch leader of China Merchants Bank. In 1999, Zang Jingui went on behalf of China Merchants Bank to do poverty alleviating work in Chuxiong Prefecture, Yunnan Province, serving as Deputy Head of Yongren County. On April 23, 2000, cerebral hemorrhage suddenly struck Zang Jingui when he returned from Zhiqie Project Hope Primary School, a poverty alleviating project, and he died at the age of 49 despite medical treatment.

"On the day a memorial service was given in honor of Zang Jingui, the whole county turned out to mourn him, along with many people who had come from afar to attend the funeral. Some peasants wept aloud before his coffin." Ma Weihua tells the reporters that before his death, Zang Jingui shuttled back and forth everywhere to obtain the funds needed to get the Project Hope Primary School started; in over 10 fund-raising projects, he and his colleagues obtained over RMB 8 million in funds for Yongren County; the poor student relief program he started after extensive investigations gave financial aid to 288 primary and secondary school students and 8 college students. After his death, the locals in Yunnan Province wrote a Yi play about Zang Jingui's deeds, and a memorial tablet was erected at Zhiqie Project Hope Primary School.

"This touched me very deeply. I worked as a leader in business for many years, including 15 years in China Merchants Bank. I watched the bank grow up with my own eyes. I want to do something meaningful with the latter half of my life so I may benefit the society a little and in the process make myself happy." Ma Weihua recalls that many business and other organizations offered to hire him back then, but he refused them all politely, because, no longer under financial restraint, he had decided to do with the latter half of his life something different than what he had been doing all along.

Since 2013, when he retired as President of China Merchants Bank, Ma Weihua has served as President of the One Foundation. In November 2015, Ma Weihua took up the post of Chairman of the Board of China Global Philanthropy Institute. The institute was established at the suggestion of five Chinese and American philanthropists, including Bill Gates and Niu Gensheng. The institute dedicates itself to improving the level of China's philanthropic education, enhancing international exchanges and cooperation in the fields of public welfare and philanthropy, and fostering innovation and reforms in the global philanthropic cause.

Spending all his time and energy doing philanthropic work is a different kind of life experience to Ma Weihua. During his 15-year tenure as president of a major bank, Ma Weihua had to face huge operational risks every day, undertaking an enormous load of responsibility and performance targets. He thinks 15 years is long enough to satisfy his desire to be a leader; it is indeed quite an achievement to develop a small bank into a Fortune 500 bank. He believes he should do something else next.

"A human life can be several dozens of years long at most, and I don't want to do the same thing all my life," says Ma Weihua, "Doing philanthropic work makes me happy and it is quite different from serving as a business leader, which involves facing huge risks and responsibility every day. It is interesting to do philanthropic work."

After his retirement as President of China Merchants Bank, Ma Weihua often went to schools to share his experience as a leader. In fact, he is a part-time professor at over 20 colleges, and usually gives lectures to executives from small and medium businesses at such business schools as the PBC School of Finance, Tsinghua University, China Europe International Business School, Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, and Antai College of Economics and Management at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He believes that going up on the podium not only gives him an opportunity to share his experiences and lessons, but enables him to learn from many useful things from the young people. "The questions raised by the students are mostly forward-looking questions, those the media pay closest attention to, or those everyone wants to know about. If you can take a firm grasp of these questions, your thought will stay abreast of the time forever," says Ma Weihua.

From a banker to a philanthropic leader, Ma Weihua brings a new way of thinking to the philanthropic cause 

Promote the "Wolflike Spirit"

Use business management ideas to do philanthropic work

After spending most of his energy doing philanthropic work, Ma Weihua put forward the concept of "philanthropy + finance," which involves promoting the philanthropic cause through such things as philanthropic trusts, philanthropic venture capital investment, and social impact bonds. Ma Weihua believes that the global philanthropic cause is undergoing a complete transformation, and that one of the major trends is that philanthropic organizations are switching to the style of management adopted by modern business organizations, thereby combining philanthropic and financial services.

"Commercial banks seek to maximize their profitability as well as the return on investment for their shareholders, while philanthropic organizations try to solve social problems and maximize their social benefits. The two types of organizations are different in nature but they may use the sample style of management," says Ma Weihua.

Ma Weihua explains in detail the way he believes the philanthropic organization should be run: use modern business ideas and modes to manage funds. He believes that no matter what you do, either philanthropic work or financial services, it is vital to control the cost, improve the utilization efficiency of capital, and reduce the risks. Because these things apply to both philanthropic work and financial services, it explains why he can "drive in a light carriage on a familiar road."

"I liken a philanthropic organization to a commercial bank, and we appeal for donations every day," says Ma Weihua, "Everybody engages in philanthropic work, so it feels like retail business. An NGO needs to be on its guard against risks when using its funds. If problems arise from its use of funds, which is the biggest risk we face, other people will put no trust in us. To prevent this from happening, we have established systems for handling such things as assets and liabilities, internal audits, external audits, and information disclosure, and we are exploring ways to improve our stimulating and restraining mechanisms."

"The traditional philanthropic organization lacks a sound knowledge of new changes and knows little about market competition." Ma Weihua believes that opening up means competition and opportunities, and that to do philanthropic work well one must have a wolflike spirit. In his philanthropic organization, he is now beginning to promote some of the practices he once adopted at China Merchants Bank, including sending his subordinates to the front line where market competition is fiercest, and forcing them to do marketing by going to various banks and platforms to give publicity to their work. Whichever of the philanthropic organizations has a better reputation on the market or a better brand or guarantees better results will become more attractive and cause more market resources to move in its direction. The final result is that in competing against each other, philanthropic organizations will serve the donation receivers better, design better philanthropic products, minimize the risk, and improve their social service capability, thereby benefiting a larger number of people and causing the competition to go through a benign cycle repeatedly.

Ma Weihua says that this exactly reflects the vitality of China's philanthropic cause in future. If there is no competition, then there is no vitality. Philanthropy should not be as stagnant as a backwater. "In the United States, this has already become quite common. Only when there is competition can there are innovation and vitality and quality and efficiency."

"The economic development at the current stage has two characteristics: on the one hand, wealth grows drastically, on the other hand, damage to the environment increases and so does the gap between the rich and the poor. The best way to solve these problems is to let these wealth-accumulating businesses treat their financial indexes and social impact as targets to reach in their development as soon as they start." With an eye toward reaching this goal, Ma Weihua tries to promote the development of "impact investment" in China. Impact investment refers to the type of investment in which equal attention is paid to the financial gains and to the social and environment impact.

Ma Weihua believes that business organizations can reap high economic gains if they seek only profits. These business organizations, however, will not win widespread approval in the future. As impact investment-related ideas develop, investors may express their approval or disapproval in their own way and show on the capital market their assessments of a business's social value in addition to its economic benefits.

"Only when they are converted into lucrative business opportunities can difficult social problems be thoroughly solved." In the interview, Ma Weihua quoted this line from American scholar Peter Drucker many times, which most aptly reflect the essence of impact investment. "Take the United States for example. The Domini 400 Social Index is the first index to use social and environmental factors as criteria for choosing listed companies. Judging from how well it is received by the investors, the Domini 400 Social Index has already beaten the S&P 500 Index," Ma Weihua says. "The largest problem impact investment faces in China is that there is no standard. We are preparing to introduce a social impact investment index in China. This will be a difficult thing to do because we have to start from scratch."

Ma Weihua gives an interview to reporters from Nanfang Daily. 

Shenzhen's potential look to increase

"Financial services + technology help stimulate the healthy development of Shenzhen"

As a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, Ma Weihua looks excited when he talks about the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and he believes that the construction opens up a big opportunity for Shenzhen because the city will give full play to its potential. This is because Shenzhen possesses huge potential, and its structural adjustments began quite early. "Therefore I give the following suggestion to relevant officials of Shenzhen's municipal government: Make the transition from Shenzhen's speed to Shenzhen's quality to Shenzhen's standards and finally to Shenzhen's creation, which should be the path of development for Shenzhen."

"Shenzhen has two major characteristics, the first being that its modern financial services industry is thriving and the second being that its technology industry ranks among the most advanced of all Chinese cities. These two characteristics are very important," Ma Weihua says. "The combination of financial services and technology will not only drive the healthy development of Shenzhen's economy but also bring along the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area."

Take a close look at the world arena and it is obvious that a trend is emerging throughout the entire world: All of the world's financial centers are building themselves into technology centers. Take New York for example. Franklin, New York, is home to over 1,000 technology firms and the number of technological professionals there has increased by 33% a year in the past 5 years, a speed second only to Silicon Valley. In fact, it has already become the second technology center of the United States. London, Singapore and even Hong Kong are also developing in this direction, essentially combining their financial services with their technology industries.

"The relationship between financial services and technology can be explained using a physics theory that can be summarized as 'Like dissolves like,' which refers to the fact that a substance can dissolve in another substance with a molecular structure similar to the former substance; in economics, this phenomenon is called a complementary relationship, which leads to a sum that is greater than the arithmetic sum of two numbers." Ma Weihua thinks that the combination of financial services and technology businesses is an intrinsically sound approach. He believes that financial institutions are in essence high-quality data analyzers as well as IT businesses. Now that they may be treated as data analyzers, it is reasonable to make use of big data rules and convert financial institutions into technology businesses that provide financial services, which may use big data, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and other technology to reduce its costs and improve its efficiency.

And combining financial services with technology, he believes, also helps promote the development of technology. Shenzhen has many financial institutions and a great deal of venture capital, and therefore is well positioned to give sufficient support to technological innovation and growth. As a result, technology businesses in Shenzhen grow fairly fast. Moreover, combining technology and financial services may extend the upper and lower ends of the industry chain and therefore make it more perfect. For example, the combination will drive the development of the logistics and intermediary services and bring along the development of Shenzhen as a central city.

As early as 5 to 6 years ago, Ma Weihua said at Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland that it is vital to improve the quality of the GDP and only healthy growth can generated competitive GDP. "According to the growth rate of China's GDP, it will be easy for China to surpass the United States, but even if we surpassed the United States, China's GDP would still lag somewhat in quality behind that of the United States. I want to declare that, for a country's GDP to be competitive; it must be technologically advanced to ensure the quality of its development."

"Back then, there were three major indexes used for gauging the quality of being technologically advanced, namely the ratio of scientific research expenditure to GDP, the ratio of research results conversion, and the power of the technological progress to drive the economy. Judging from the three indexes, Shenzhen enjoys significant advantages." As Ma Weihua points out, a large number of innovative businesses have emerged in Shenzhen in every decade. China Merchants Bank, Pingan, Huawei, and Vanke emerged in the 1980s, BYD and Tencent in the 1990s, and DJI and Royole in the current decade. "One batch of innovative businesses after another is born in Shenzhen because emerging technology gets support from capital and takes root here."

"Because the latest technology, best international capital and most excellent talents gather in Shenzhen, the city will enjoy greater potential for development than any other city in China," Ma Weihua says, smiling. "Combining financial services and technology will give a fresh impetus to the healthy development of Shenzhen."


"You have to look to the future, learn about the outer world, and have a macroscopic view of the situation"

The interview given by Ma Weihua to Nanfang Daily reporters lasts two hours. Although he is over 60 years old, Ma Weihua is still full of vigor and talks with full conviction and logic; he can even remember the date accurately when recalling details of events in the past years. What impresses the reporters most is that during the 2-hour interview, he strongly projects the kind of practicality and enthusiasm rarely seen in anybody but a true entrepreneur and reformer.

Ma Weihua stresses the importance of devotion to one thing only when asked about his career experience

Nanfang Daily:You built a little-known small regional bank into China's sixth largest commercial bank, or the 44thlargest in the world, which is quite impressive. Can you share your experience with us?

Ma Weihua:I think that to succeed, one must first devote all his energy to doing one thing well. When I came to China Merchants Bank, I made it the most important goal of my whole life to run it well. I then said to myself that I would do nothing else in my life. Only in this way can anyone make long-term plans, design what to do in the distant future, and focus all his energy on the most important thing at hand. I believe that everyone can succeed in something, as long as he stays focused on it and labors over it continuously.

Second, you have to have a sense of responsibility and follow a code of ethics. Now that I have begun to serve as president of a philanthropic organization, I must perform my duty diligently, which is why I have been very busy every day. Anything you have promised someone you will do you must do conscientiously. Now I often take part in forums or give lectures. For every forum or lecture I will attend or give, I will make sufficient preparations by studying a great deal of material beforehand. I will waste no time examining the meeting or lecture material as I go to the forum or lecture by plane. I don't want to do my homework carelessly and, by extension, treat other people lightly. I want to share my experience and knowledge with young entrepreneurs and I want to give my lectures as best I can.

Anything you have promised to do you must do well. This is the right sense of responsibility and the right code of ethics. Only in this way can you earn the trust of other people. Whatever trust other people may have placed in you will be lost after you fool them once.

Third, you have to be both curious and ambitious. I had two habits when I served as President of China Merchants Bank. First, I kept on spending my spare time giving lectures at schools and letting both students and teachers there raise questions. I found the questions those students and teachers raised quite forward-looking. Although I could not give a perfect answer to every one of those questions, I found them capable of arousing my curiosity and generating within me a desire to acquire more knowledge. Second, I invited the media for an exchange of ideas and information wherever I went, because the media normally focused on hot issues and topics. If you can take a firm grasp of such issues and topics, you can be sure of your thoughts always staying abreast of the time.

When I was President of China Merchants Bank, I usually repeated three statements to my staff, namely that you cannot get a good grasp of what is happening now without first looking to the future, that you cannot understand China without first learning the outer world, and that you cannot handle microscopic details well without first having a macroscopic view of the situation. You have to look to the future, learn about the outer world, and have a macroscopic view of the situation.

Nanfang Daily:As an entrepreneur yourself, which qualities do you think entrepreneurialism should contain?

Ma Weihua:I think entrepreneurialism should contain the following five qualities: First, the grand vision that takes in the whole world, second, the approach to operations that demands change with the time, third, the ambition that forces innovation and entrepreneurship, fourth, a set of values that emphasize honesty and credibility, fifth, a sense of responsibility that keeps up the desire to serve the society. I think these five qualities are the essence of entrepreneurialism.I am a professional manager myself, but I have always forced myself to hold on to these five qualities so as to be a good professional manager.

Ma Weihua reveals that although he is busier than before, he comes under less psychological stress now.

Nanfang Daily: What have you been doing since you retired from China Merchants Bank?

Ma Weihua: I give lectures as a teacher in addition to doing philanthropic work. I teach in the hope of passing my knowledge and experience to young people. I have served as a part-time professor at over 20 colleges, including the PBC School of Finance, Tsinghua University, Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, and China Europe International Business School. At the PBC School of Finance, Tsinghua University, I may spend 15 to 16 hours giving lectures if I am asked to teach two days.

Nanfang Daily:Are you busier or is your life easier than when you served as President of China Merchants Bank?

Ma Weihua:I am busier but I feel less psychological stress now. I have no hard targets to reach now. At present, I mostly busy myself giving lectures, delivering speeches, attending exchanges, and doing things like that. I think they are very interesting. I gave lectures to some entrepreneurs from Qingdao yesterday. My schedule is very full every day. But I feel I am a little too busy, and I have decided to give myself a less demanding schedule. I now sleep 6 to 7 hours a day. I never take a nap after lunch. I never suffer from jet lag when I travel abroad, which means I am physically fit.

Nanfang Daily: Considering you are so physically fit, can you tell us how you manage to stay healthy?

Ma Weihua: My way of staying healthy is to eat as much as I want, sleep as little as possible without harming my health, and do no exercise. I eat as much as I want to stay healthy. It is my beliefs that only by having a good appetite can a person stay healthy. But what if you put on weight? That is why I sleep as little as possible without harming my health. I think having a 6-hour sound sleep every day is enough. Lying 10 hours in bed will do no good if you cannot fall asleep. I sleep well and can fall asleep a few minutes after I get into bed. Most of my sleep is deep. I must say something more about doing no exercise. By saying doing no exercise, I mean I will do no hard exercise, like the kind Mr. Wang Shi usually does, mountaineering for example. I like light exercise, like walking. I walk 10,000 steps every day. If you can sleep 6 hours well every day and have a good appetite, you are physically fit.

Nanfang Daily:If you do feel like resting someday, what kind of life do you want?

Ma Weihua:Read books, write something, drink tea with friends. In a word, try to relax.

Nanfang Daily:What books have you been reading lately?

Ma Weihua:I have been reading several books on impact investment. There is also a book by an Australian writer and another by Anthony, an American who once worked at the Rockefeller Foundation. I am also reading a book titledEmbracing Death, written by one of the richest Indians in the world. The book is very touching and the author is a philanthropist. Many people fear death, but death is something nobody can avoid. One has to have a right attitude toward death. I am asking a publishing house to translate the book into Chinese to be published in China. 


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