Richard Liu is the founder and chief executive officer of JD.com, an e-commerce platform headquartered in Beijing that is leading the global industry in logistics and infrastructure capabilities. JD, a member of the Fortune Global 500, is China’s largest online retailer, biggest overall retailer, and biggest internet company by revenue. Liu built the JD brand from the ground up after starting the first brick-and-mortar store in Beijing in 1998 and eventually taking the store online and changing the landscape of retail around the world. With a dedication to quality and service, Liu continues to build the JD empire with a focus on investing in the company’s technological advancement.
Born on March 10, 1973, in the Jiangsu province town of Suquian, Liu attended the Renmin University of China and graduated with a degree in sociology. He then earned an EMBA degree from the China Europe International Business School. Liu grew up as China was beginning economic reforms, filled with explosive growth in the decades of his youth, yet his hometown and family remained poor throughout most of his young life. When Liu was accepted into university, his entire village pitched in to help send him to school. “They donated a total of 76 eggs and 500 yuan to send me off for the opportunity that changed my life," he once penned in a company blog post. “To understand the culture of giving in China, one must understand its history.”
Liu has since donated time and an expanse of resources to his alma mater with the hopes of giving back to the communities in which he was once so engrained. Engaged in politics and sociology from an early age, Liu Quingdong also showed great interest in computer programming and new technology with a promising future, and in 1998, he opened a 4-square- meter store selling computer accessories in and around Beijing. The early success of the business, Jingdong, was due to Liu’s attention to quality and customer service, as the region of storefronts in Beijing’s tech hub was usually reserved for knockoffs and a barter system. Liu’s innovative concept sold real products for real prices, and his good reputation led to the expansion of a chain of 12 stores throughout Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang.
In 2003, the SARS epidemic plagued China, forcing Liu to close his storefronts due to the threat of staff and customers staying indoors. Out of necessity, his online store was reborn as JD – a concept similar to his brick-and-mortar operation with the same focus on quality and service. The early success of JD led Liu to understand the possibility of online retail, realizing that logistics costs were lower and e-commerce was truly the way of the future.
With the success of JD online, new products were being added every year. It’s been said of these first years in business that Liu was so dedicated to his concept that he was out delivering all of the packages purchased from his online store himself. Early success led to innovations in logistics, proving to be a task that no other company in the country had really undertaken, providing smart logistics operations for a population of one billion Chinese people. These early investments and dedication to sophisticated data-driven technologies and proprietary solutions helped carve out JD as the global leader in smart supply and logistics, with customers around the country enjoying same- and next-day delivery – a level of service unmatched globally. The company also boasts a leading delivery time outside of China’s borders worldwide. Liu has reported that an order in Beijing can be fulfilled in as little as three hours, while 57 percent of orders are delivered in six hours and 97 percent are delivered in ten. He has also noted that JD could manage delivery to Washington within 10 to 15 days.
To date, JD has one of the largest fulfillment infrastructures of any e-commerce company in the world. The company currently operates 20 “Asia No. 1” logistics parks, which are counted among the largest and most automated smart fulfillment centers around the world, all while leveraging a network of over 550 warehouses covering a cumulative 12 million square meters.
Plans for JD’s growth are vast and vary between regions. In Southeast Asia, for example, the team behind JD’s expansion is looking for local partners while working to avoid excluding acquisitions. The expansion will take several steps, according to Liu. The first step is to bring the best products to China, and then to Southeast Asia, followed by the Middle East, Europe, and the United States.
“Our ambition is to expand our supply chain ability to the whole world – to connect any brand, any goods, and any consumer globally,” Liu said in an interview at a business event in Aspen, Colorado.
JD has teamed up with Walmart to set the pace for the global scale, as Liu agreed to buy the U.S. company’s online operations in the country. In return, the Arkansas retailer bought a chunk of stake in the business. Walmart also co-led a $500 million fundraising effort in August for a JD affiliate that connects fleets of motorbike delivery staff with merchants in hundreds of Chinese towns and cities. Liu has said that JD’s partnership with Walmart was meant to connect the two global powers, while the work with another titan investor, Google, will be “mostly focused outside of China,” as the platform’s services are largely blocked or unavailable in China.
Additionally, Liu is in the process of opening more offices and warehouses across Western Europe, forming a marketing strategy for the region throughout 2019. On the topic of expansion, Liu believes that the rhetoric between U.S. and Chinese companies has followed a narrow storyline: American companies have a difficult time when it comes to breaking into the Chinese market, but he believes that those roles have reversed, and it’s harder now for Chinese companies to expand in the United States. This strategy must come with a winning marketing maneuver that is specific to the region, says Liu, and the right teams that know the market must be in place.
Speaking on his journey and JD’s vision for the future at the 2018 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Liu pointed to specific moments in his quest to create JD and the crucial moments that forever changed the global retail landscape. To achieve JD’s global vision, Liu said, JD must facilitate the exchange of popular foreign brands between counties, bringing popular American brands to China while taking “superior Chinese brands” to overseas markets.