jane sun ceo of ctrip.com

Lessons On Leading with Heart: Jane Sun, Trip.com

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One of the most representative faces in China’s technology industry, Jane Sun is the only female CEO in the online travel industry and among a growing number of female CEOs dominating China’s startup scene.

When Jane first joined Trip.com (formerly Ctrip) as CFO in 2005, the young company had a market capitalization of $500 million. Today, Trip.com is the largest online travel agency (OTA) in China, and one of the largest travel service providers worldwide. The company is listed on NASDAQ with a total valuation of $17.3 billion (as of 8 June 2020).

When asked what she was most proud of, Jane said “I’m extremely proud of our growth. And secondly is our expansion in the global spaces. When I joined the company, Ctrip was only a very small Chinese online travel company. And now in terms of GMV we’re already the largest in the global space.”

Recognizing potential

When she was first invited to join Trip.com as CFO, Jane considered the value of investing her youth in China. “The GDP growth rate was about 2% and China was growing anywhere between 8% to 10%”, she recalled.She was also keen for the opportunity that enabled her to shape the next generation of business leaders at what she considered a turning point in China’s history. “I feel a tremendous responsibility to bring up the next generation of the leadership and give them as good an opportunity as possible going forward,” she said.

Why travel? Jane candidly admitted that joining a tobacco or alcohol company would ensure a stable and profitable future - but she wanted to be part of a business that was “very healthy, very green, [and] brings happiness to the people.”

For our young leadership team, my advice to them is always go beyond your title, go beyond your scope. Invest your time and energy in the next level, and then you will spin out. My title, my scope is never a limit on what I do. Whatever is good for the company I would just jump in and get it done.”

- Jane Sun, CEO of Trip.com

For her, the travel industry was one that could benefit many - happiness to individuals and families, educational opportunities for the young, and even global peace from mutual understanding.

Trip.com’s team culture and potential appealed to her. “When I talk[ed] to our team,” she said, “I fe[lt] very strong[ly] that this company is very humble, down-to-earth, hardworking, and they have the best opportunity to win.”

Jane’s eye for winning potential was something that would guide the company’s strategy in investing as well. “We hold very high standard[s] for our acquisition target,” she told GGV Capital in a 2018 interview. The company would only consider potential investments in travel, sticking close to its core expertise. “There are lots of opportunities outside of travel,” she acknowledged. “But we are very much focused on the travel industry.” ​

She also emphasised their focus on the top-ranking companies in a travel business vertical. “We only are interested in making investment in the winners, number one or number two in each vertical...no matter how good a company is the valuation needs to make sense.”

Championing gender equality

Under Jane’s leadership, Trip.com has become an example of a workplace which empowers women. In June 2019, half of Ctrip’s employees, and a third of its executives in high-level positions were women.

Ctrip had also introduced benefits and measures aimed at promoting work-life balance - education subsidies were given to both male and female employees with new babies. Pregnant female employees were eligible for taxi fare reimbursement. The company also allocated up to 2 million RMB (around US$280,000) to support female employees with the option to freeze their eggs. This made them the first large Chinese technology company with this benefit, following in the footsteps of Apple and Facebook.

Jane is a leading supporter of the Women in Global Health LEAD Fellowship at Harvard University, a programme which offers five female global health pioneers the opportunity to spend a semester at Harvard, and receive an additional year of mentorship as they execute their leadership plans back at their home institutions.

“Our generation is extremely blessed...For me, the only way you can return these favors is working hard and create the opportunities for the new generation so they can be very successful. They can step on your shoulders and create a new enterprise that becomes 10 times as big as today’s Ctrip.”

- Jane Sun, CEO of Trip.com

Supporting future talent

Jane was acutely aware of the opportunities she has been privileged to receive. “My grandmother was very smart but during her age China was in the Second World War and they escaped from one city to another. And my mother is also very smart, she was a chemistry engineer. But they suffered from the Cultural Revolution,” she said, noting how key milestones like the Internet boom and the rise of China coincided with her university education and subsequent return to her birth country.

That is what drove Trip.com’s Baby Tiger Program, an innovation incubator which would provide funding and resources for employees with new ideas and business plans.

The program was also the spark that nurtured TrainPal, an online train ticketing service which offered split ticketing for the UK and parts of Europe. “When we asked him how much money, how long he needs, he said ‘I need 2 million RMB, six months, six people to prove I’m successful or not. If not, you can close out’,” Jane related. “And it only took him one month to prove that the volume exceeded 10,000 per day.” TrainPal reported bookings had grown by 231 times in June 2019 since its 2018 launch.

When asked for one key piece of advice she had to offer to young leaders, Jane said, “Whatever that is not taken care of by our executive teams, I would just jump in and fix it. After a couple of years our board feels that I already was doing the COO’s position, so they promoted me to be the COO.”

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