DONG MINGZHU Qilai Shen Bloomberg Getty Images

Qilai Shen/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Dong Mingzhu

Chairperson, Gree Electric

Dong Mingzhu’s potential to succeed at Gree was noticed early.

Having joined the Shenzhen-based air-conditioner manufacturer in the early 1990s, she was within one month promoted to head of sales. A steady rise through the company followed and she was made company president in 2001, finally becoming chairwoman of the entire Gree Group in November 2016.

Under Dong’s leadership, Gree has become the world’s largest household air-conditioning maker, as well as China’s largest household-appliance maker. She has also diversified Gree beyond its core business, investing in areas such as electric-vehicle manufacturing, solar energy and robotics. This year the company is planning to launch its own branded 5G smartphone.

Dong’s uncompromising style — she has been quoted as once saying “I never admit mistakes, and I am always correct” — has earned her a reputation as a strong leader. The New York Times called her one of the toughest businesswomen in China and she says she has never taken a day off since joining the company.

While COVID-19 will have a serious impact on Gree’s 2020 revenues, Dong is still fighting and innovating. In May, her sales instinct led her to make her debut on Chinese livestreaming platform Kuaishou. Within three hours of her appearance, the company had sold close to $44 million worth of Gree goods.