Wang Zhidong seems unable to stop working. He takes his laptop everywhere and, even during press interviews, keeps one eye on his incoming e-mail. Wang, 32, has no time to waste, for his ambitions are big--he would like to be China's Bill Gates, with one qualification: I don't want to be hated like Bill Gates.
As CEO of , the biggest chortal (Chinese portal), Wang is already on his way. At Peking University, he did so well in radio electronics that his supervisor wouldn't let him switch to his real interest, computers. So Wang taught himself. Even before graduating he worked for a host of computer firms in Beijing's Haidian district. Most of them went bust, he recalls. Then in 1991 he shut himself away in a tiny apartment to write the first Chinese-language software for PCs, earning him enough money to set up his own firm. Wang then began writing software for the Internet, and at the end of 1998 merged his own firm with a Silicon Valley-based Chinese portal set up by three Taiwanese students from Stanford University. Wang renamed the site Sina, shifted its main operations to Beijing and concentrated on Web-based news. Sina exploded onto the larger Chinese scene last May when NATO planes bombed China's embassy in Belgrade. Wang's site was the quickest, most reliable source of news for an enraged nation.
Sina's coverage of the bombing and its mix of mainland Chinese talent with U.S. technology boosted the portal past its biggest rival, Sohu. Investment banks began knocking on Wang's door with offers to take Sina public on NASDAQ. But for the time being Wang has Bill Gates-like problems with the Chinese government, which feels he has gotten too big for his boots and is making him wait for his IPO. Chastened, he now says, The most important thing is to communicate with the government and know what it is doing. But also like Gates, he's having difficulty working out precisely what that might be.