Tencent billionaire goes on a tirade as cracks appear in empire

BEIJING – Many multinational CEOs like to close out the year with a message of congratulations. Tencent Holdings Ltd’s billionaire co-founder Pony Ma delivered a no-holds-barred rant about slacking, oblivious and even corrupt employees.

Mr Ma’s tirade marked a rare show of frustration for the usually mild-mannered mogul who helped create China’s largest Internet firm away from the spotlight.

Last week, the tycoon convened a town-hall meeting to personally deliver a blistering attack against the way staff managed businesses from social media and content to gaming.

The message: with the survival of some businesses in doubt, they all needed to get their act together, according to people who attended the 10-minute lecture.

“You can’t even survive as a business, yet you’re chilling on the weekends, playing ball,” Mr Ma told his audience, according to the people present, who asked not to be identified describing an internal event.

His remarks were first reported by local media outlet Jiemian. Tencent representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tencent, which with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd helped establish the modern Chinese Internet industry, has seen growth evaporate over the past year in the aftermath of a sweeping crackdown on private enterprise.

The company’s gaming business came under attack from regulations intended to curb youth addiction, while an economic slowdown twinned with punishing Covid-19 curbs eroded its advertising segment.

It cut jobs by the thousands this year, shrinking its workforce for the first time in almost a decade.

Mr Ma and his lieutenants have mostly maintained an upbeat tone in public, lauding efforts to clean up Internet content and restructure the gaming industry.

They also expressed hopes that the reforms are mostly completed and that Tencent can get back to quality growth.

But in last week’s internal address, Mr Ma laid into virtually every facet of his US$400 billion (S$539.77 billion) Internet empire. 

He upbraided the bread-and-butter gaming division for frittering away money to acquire users for hastily churned-out titles, rather than focusing on quality.

Mr Ma accused employees of “superficial” reforms to spending and costs, according to attendees.

He even said corruption remained rampant across the ranks, without elaborating, the attendees added.


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