Court of the Sun Queen: Ctrip CEO’s secrets to success

Ctrip CEO Jane Sun (left), in conversation with co-chairman of The Carlyle Group, David Rubenstein

The secret to how Ctrip grew in value by 210x was revealed by Jane Sun, CEO of Ctrip.com, International Ltd., during the Aspen Action Forum in Aspen, Colorado, USA where she was joined on stage by David Rubenstein, co-chairman of The Carlyle Group, who previously invested in the company in 2003.

The successful American financier invested in Ctrip shortly after the company’s listing on NASDAQ in 2003, at the time with a valuation of around USD 100 million, which he would later sell for a four-to-five hundred percent profit. “At the time, we thought how brilliant are we? The company is today worth USD 21 billion. I guess I sold too soon, right?”, he quipped.

“We should always listen to our customers”

In the time since Rubenstein’s initial investment in 2003, Ctrip’s market capitalization has grown exponentially, becoming the largest online travel agent in China and Asia.

Sun explained that the secret to Ctrip’s success is not in stamping out competition, but rather in listening to its users, and working incessantly to improve their travel experience. “Rather than focusing on competition, we should always listen to our customers, and focus on serving them,” she said.

As the CEO of Ctrip, Sun leads her team to implement innovative and intuitive solutions to everyday issues encountered by its users, ranging from its highly efficient SOS emergency mechanism which allows Ctrip to respond to urgent requests in an average of 17 seconds, to its automatic alternative routing and reissuing service for customers whose flights are cancelled. “We aim to make travel more pleasant,” Sun said.

I could be a bridge between China and the rest of the world”

Having spent almost 20 years in the USA, Sun’s story is an amalgamation of both the American Dream, and a Chinese Dream. As a member of the first batch of Mainland Chinese students to study in the US, she feels fortunate, she explained, to have had the opportunity of studying in America. “I thought that my background and bilingual, bi-cultural skills could be better utilised in China, and that I could be a bridge between China and the rest of the world,” she said.

In her unique role as the only female CEO in the Chinese Internet industry, Jane Sun has been an active advocate for women’s rights. She has also established a scholarship named after her professors at the University of Florida, as a way of both giving back to society, and inspiring the next generation of young leaders in the same way she was as a student.

Global peace

Ctrip also plays an important role, she says, in bridging the two countries, and contributing to global peace and understanding. “I feel travel not only brings joy to lives, but also serves as a kind of diplomacy, as a way of bringing people together and promoting a common global understanding and cultural exchange. In today’s sometimes fractious environment, this is particularly important,” she said.

Although Rubenstein may regret selling his Ctrip stock, Sun assured him that as the company enters its next phase of development, the best is yet to come. “I’m sure that the travel industry will continue to grow, and Ctrip will capitalize on those opportunities,” she said. “And I hope we can live up to the expectations of promoting the global economy and global peace.”

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