Why JD.com founder was studying in US

JD.com founder Richard Liu was arrested for alleged criminal sexual conduct in Minneapolis. He is now back in China.
JD.com founder Richard Liu was arrested for alleged criminal sexual conduct in Minneapolis. He is now back in China.

BEIJING • With a US$7.3 billion (S$10 billion) fortune and business operations spanning the globe, Mr Richard Liu could have spent the last days of August anywhere in the world. The JD.com founder chose to spend his time taking classes in Minneapolis as a student at the University of Minnesota.

Why was one of China's most successful business figures hitting the books at all, much less so far from home in the Gopher State? That is part of the mystery surrounding his days in Minnesota, where he was arrested for alleged criminal sexual conduct as the long Labour Day weekend got under way.

Mr Liu, 45, is a student in the university's Carlson School of Management and was in Minneapolis to complete the American residency of a United States-China business administration doctorate programme.

The course takes place mainly in Beijing with a singular cohort of students - the average age is 50 and many are captains of industry.

Co-led by Tsinghua University - the alma mater of Chinese leaders including Mr Xi Jinping - its graduates include the head of fintech titan Ant Financial, Mr Eric Jing.

The Twin Cities programme is one of scores that cater to a fast-rising Chinese demographic: senior executives. Unlike in the US, where luminaries such as Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates wear their college drop-out badges with pride, Chinese executives seek academic plaudits long after they cease to matter for their careers.

"If you have a better degree and education, you get more recognition," said Mr Wang Huiyao, founder of the Centre for China and Globalisation, a think-tank.


It is not just about academic credentials. Many executives who grew up frustrated by restrictions are indulging in travel freedoms. Others whose companies are exploring overseas markets hope to tap networks abroad and gain insight into their targets.

"For people like Mr Richard Liu, it is not so much about knowing more people. It is for the purpose of widening his perspective to learn new ideas and get a better understanding of the American society and market," said Mr Freeman Shen, an alumnus and Carlson board of overseers member who founded electric vehicle start-up WM Motor Technology .

Mr Liu was arrested by the Minneapolis police on an accusation of "criminal sexual conduct" last Friday night and held about 16 hours. A police spokesman said the investigation is ongoing. Mr Liu is now back at work in his home country.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2018, with the headline 'Why JD.com founder was studying in US'. Print Edition | Subscribe