Pitt Alumnus Frank Gaoning Ning Named Asia Business Leader of Year

Issue Date: 
December 7, 2009
Mark A. Nordenberg (left) with Frank Gaoning NingMark A. Nordenberg (left) with Frank Gaoning Ning

Frank Gaoning Ning, a 1985 MBA graduate of the University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz School of Business Administration and chair of COFCO, one of China’s largest conglomerates, has been named Asia Business Leader of the Year by CNBC Asia Pacific, a media company headquartered in Singapore.

This honor, CNBC Asia Pacific’s top award, was announced during the Nov. 26 CNBC Asia Business Leaders Awards ceremony, which was broadcast globally from Singapore.

“Frank Gaoning Ning’s extraordinary record of high achievement and impact, so visibly recognized by his selection for this prestigious award, should be an inspiration to everyone who believes in hard work and the power of higher education,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “To think that he traveled to our University from the other side of the world as a young man, earned his MBA here at Pitt, returned to China to begin building his career, and now has been named the outstanding business leader in all of Asia is remarkable. Every institution of higher learning makes many of its most important contributions through the work of its alumni. Just a year ago, we publicly declared our own pride in the many accomplishments of Frank Ning when we honored him as a Legacy Laureate. For obvious reasons, our sense of pride in this distinguished Pitt graduate deepens with each passing year.”

CNBC created the Asia Business Leader of the Year Award and other Business Leader Awards to recognize exceptional CEOs globally. “Recipients of the awards are stellar individuals who are visionaries behind today’s outstanding businesses,” CNBC noted on its Web site. “They epitomize core values of a successful leader—strength, innovation, ingenuity, knowledge, and foresight, values that are imperative to carving out powerful businesses in the global economy.”

In a news release announcing the awards, CNBC stated that Ning was selected for inspiring COFCO’s growth “while keeping in step with global trends. With [more than] 100,000 employees, COFCO has been on the list of the Fortune 500 and ranked the first in China’s Top 100 Food Enterprises for years ... Mr. Ning has been instrumental in leading COFCO through multiple phases of growth … and under his leadership, COFCO’s workforce of thousands has been motivated to excel in a market-oriented culture, continually scoring well in customer satisfaction, as well as achieving high-performance standards by individual employees.”

As a global business leader, Ning has held executive-level positions in some of China’s largest national conglomerates. He is now chair of COFCO, a Fortune magazine Global 500 corporation that is one of the largest food manufacturers and leading grain, oils, and foodstuffs import-and-export groups in China. COFCO also provides real estate, hotel, and financial services and has annual sales revenues of more than $21 billion. Ning also is chair of COFCO (Hong Kong) and China Foods, Limited, a subsidiary of COFCO.

Among Ning’s many honors was being named a 2008 Pitt Legacy Laureate, an honor reserved for University of Pittsburgh alumni recognized for their outstanding personal and professional accomplishments. Ning traveled to Pittsburgh to participate in the reception and dinner honoring the 2008 Legacy Laureates, and he spoke fondly about the education he received at the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business: “It has been 22 years since my graduation from the Katz Graduate School of Business. As an alumnus benefiting tremendously from the University’s outstanding teaching and studies, I always have been grateful to the University.”

“Twenty-two years ago when I returned to China from the University as an MBA, I was questioned many a time what on earth an MBA was,” Ning added. “Yet in the past two decades in my career life, what I learned as an MBA candidate in the University has given me an invaluable treasure. If I ever achieved anything in my career since my graduation from the University, I’d say that it is only because I got strength from my school life here,” he said.

Similarly, Ning himself received much heartfelt praise from John Delaney, dean of the Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, and Lawrence Feick, director of Pitt’s University Center for International Studies (UCIS).

“I think Frank has done an outstanding job leading the company, and I was pleased to learn that he had won the award. That COFCO has weathered the economic downturn and performed exceedingly well is a testament to Frank’s ability to manage his businesses effectively,” Delaney said, adding that the Asia Business Leader of the Year is a carefully vetted and selective honor.

Ning is “also very interested in supporting the University. He would like to support our alumni efforts in China, and he is willing to help us when we’re looking at ways to place our MBA students in internships and jobs,” he added.

Feick extolled Ning’s global business intellect: “He has the benefit of having a Chinese background—being part of the culture and knowing intimately the nature of the unique Chinese economy. He also has Western business acumen from his education at Pitt. That combination has no doubt served him very well in leading his company to become a global powerhouse.”

Ning has been recognized five times as one of the 25 most influential business leaders by Chinese Entrepreneur magazine and served as a mentor at the second annual meeting of the New Champions, a gathering of 1,500 leaders from 80 countries that is sponsored by the World Economic Forum.

Ning serves as a director of BOC International Holdings, Limited, and Smithfield Foods, Inc.; nonexecutive director of Lippo China Resources Limited; and a member of the International Association for Chinese Management Research and the Asia Business Council.

Feick of Pitt’s UCIS noted that Ning hosted a large May reception in Beijing for a visiting Pitt delegation that included Feick, Chancellor Nordenberg, and several deans, trustees, and other senior Pitt officials. Also attending were members of the Heinz Chapel Choir, which was touring China, and several Pitt alumni who are living and working in Beijing.

“He is a real asset to the University in so many ways,” Feick added.