Earlier this month, PDD Holdings (parent of Pinduoduo and Temu) filed the appointment of a new co-CEO to the SEC.
Like other senior executives at Pinduoduo, Jiazhen Zhao, the new co-CEO (alongside exsiting CEO Chen Lei), is as obscure as Abu (Gu Pingping), who leads Temu and is undisputedly founder Colin Huang’s second-in-command.
Many have asked us in the past few weeks who exactly is Jiazhen Zhao. Well, i nfact, our friend Runze Dai actually wrote about Zhao, using his nickname “Winter Jujube”, in this article about the fiery culture and internal competition at Pinduoduo.
According to Pinduoduo’s nickname tradition, Zhao is probably the second generation of leaders (after Colin Huang and Abu), with his peers (who he competes with) nicknamed “grape”, “potato” etc. “Potato” is the nickname of Chen Lei, the incumbent CEO.
With the title “Co-founder” since 2018, Zhao, who is quieter and more observant compared to many, initially led the company’s focus on agricultural and fresh produce ecommerce. Streamlining the agricultural especially fruit supply chain across China was a major breakthrough for Pinduoduo, as we have highlighted before.
Zhao’s early colleagues have credited him as “sharp insights, daring in innovation, and decisive”. One story quoted in Chinese media is that once he was in the orchards of a Southern Chinese region, which is famous for good quality oranges. It was during the picking season and many buyers/wholesalers descended into the region to buy in bulk.
Zhao saw it differently – as the surge in buyer activity actually led to congestion of roads, wastage, higher manpower and warehousing costs etc. In effect, with higher costs and no increase in total sales, the supply chain efficiency was actually lowered, so was the final consumers’ experience.
That, and many other experiences, led him to push and iterate the “groupbuy+ship from origin” model of disintermediation, which squeezed the supply chain cost, reduced wastage, and improved consumer experience.
Zhao’s familiarity in the agricultural supply chain also led him to spearhead Pinduoduo’s grocery community group buy model in 2020. After an expensive war against all the tech giants, Duoduo Maicai emerged as number one in the country.
It was alleged that when he was assigned to pilot Duoduo Maicai in Jiangxi province, he dropped everything and headed to Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi, on the same day. He led the relentless focus on efficiency and cost, and fended off competition through investment into the infrastructure and constant optimisation.
With his proven track record and fighting spirit, Zhao is now elevated to the co-CEO role to deal with the challenges of the new era – US expansion through Temu, as well as a revolt of Chinese sellers, whose margins have been squeezed by Pinduoduo.
It is assumed by many observers we spoke to that Chen Lei, with a computer science background and a PhD from University of Wisconsin, will take care of the many facets of international expansion, while Zhao will focus on building an even more solid foundation for the company.
If you would like more information about Pinduoduo, its leaders, culture and that of its peers, you can also read Momentum Academy’s report Tech Leaders with Chinese characteristics as well as our book Seeing the unseen: behind Chinese tech giants’ global venturing.