Jeffrey Towson

The world looked with awe when Alibaba’s chairman Jack Ma performed as Michael Jackson during a massive show for employees and customers last week. But Chinese tycoons like to put up a show, says Beida business professor Jeffrey Towson to CNN. Western CEO’s seldom let themselves go (perhaps with the exception of former ABN Amro CEO Gerrit Zalm).


Robin Li, the founder and CEO of internet giant Baidu, likes to mix things up.

He turned his performance at the company’s summer party into a family affair this year. His daughter sang “Call Me Maybe” while accompanied by professional dancers. Proud papa, dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, strolled on stage at the end of the song, strumming the last few bars of the song on an acoustic guitar while his daughter crooned along.

That performance was understated compared with a 2015 extravaganza, when Li donned a studded gold lamé outfit to sing and play the drums in a dazzling routine — complete with smoke machines and a laser show — at the company’s annual gala.

Many other Chinese business leaders like to put on a show, according to Jeffrey Towson, a private equity investor and professor at Peking University.

“You see these kinds of crazy events all the time,” he said. The outlandish galas allow bosses to be playful and self deprecating while also demonstrating how successful the company has been, according to Towson.

More in CNN.

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