Forbes China put out its 2012 list of China's top CEOs earlier this week, and it shouldn't come as a surprise to see Baidu's (Nasdaq: BIDU ) Robin Li on top.
It's not just because he's a cultural icon in the world's most populous nation. It's not even because he's the richest man in mainland China. The survey ranks CEO performance relative to compensation, so it's not as if Li's status as a rock star factored into the decision.
Again, it still doesn't come as a surprise. Baidu has been a consistent market beater with stellar top- and bottom-line growth along the way. Even last year -- when many Chinese stocks took a hit -- Baidu shareholders were treated to a better-than-20% gain. If that seems heady, keep in mind that Baidu's revenue and earnings grew 83% and 88%, respectively, last year. In other words, Baidu's stock got cheaper even after delivering another year of market-thumping returns.
Maybe if someone had told you a dozen years ago that China's top CEO came from an Internet company you would have been floored. There were plenty of Web-savvy companies getting off the ground at the time, but the restrictive nature of the country's government made it seem unlikely.
Even today, the Internet in China isn't as free as in the rest of the world. China's leading social networking website, Renren (Nasdaq: RENN ) , and top microblogging platform SINA's (Nasdaq: SINA ) Weibo emphasize the ID verification of its users.
As a search engine, Baidu doesn't necessarily have to keep tabs on its users, but there are certain politically charged search terms that are blocked in the country.
However, the viability of the Internet in China may be even stronger than we're seeing closer to home. Coming up second in this year's list is Ma Huateng, CEO of instant messaging giant Tencent Holdings (OTC: TCEHY). Can you imagine the U.S.'s top CEO hailing from a pure Internet company? Can you imagine the gold and silver medals among CEOs going to pure dot-coms?
China's Internet has come a long way, and Baidu's Li continues to lead the way.
Bullish on Baidu
A bullish call on Baidu has served me well on Motley Fool CAPS over the years. True to the CAPScall initiative, I'm not going to give up on it now. Baidu has soared 1,246% since I recommended it to Rule Breakers newsletter subscribers six years ago, but now it's time to discover the next rule-breaking multibagger. It's a free report. Want it? Get it.