A new match is just beginning for Chinese tennis star Li Na. Today, the two-time Grand Slam champion was enrolled into a two-year program for senior management executives at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB), reflecting the school’s innovative “top of the pyramid” approach to education.
“As a retired athlete who has been in the tennis industry for many years, I hope to pursue a wide range of business interests in my second career,” said Li Na. “I also hope to become a more thoughtful person at CKGSB, so as to make more sensible and effective financial, managerial and business decisions. I will be looking to develop on many levels, and making many new friends while undertaking the rigorous studies will also help to create more opportunities for the future.”
Known as the “pride of China” by virtue of her ability to endure hardship and never admit defeat in her quest to become Asia’s first Grand Slam singles winner, Li Na has transferred that passion and enthusiasm to the worlds of business and philanthropy since retiring from the game of tennis. Having played one game, she is now coming to CKGSB in the hope of taking herself to the next level in a different arena.
A tennis player since the age of 6, Li Na turned professional in 1999 and has never looked back, racking up a steady stream of achievements, including:
Upon Li Na’s retirement in 2014, the WTA’s then executive chairman Stacey Allaster commented: “In addition to her amazing tennis ability and warm and humorous character, Li Na pioneered tennis in Asia and China and opened it up to billions.” Meanwhile, CCTV’s tennis reporter Liu Zhuang said, “Going back ten years, no one believed that a Chinese person could become a Grand Slam singles champion, but Li Na did it, and more than once. Her retirement is not just an end, but also a new beginning. It means we can actually look forward to a future for Chinese tennis and for sports in China.”
Li Na’s rise in both the sporting and business spheres has been inextricably linked. After becoming French Open champion in 2011, she secured no fewer than 13 brand endorsements. Following the birth of her first daughter in 2015, her attention then naturally turned towards her family, and she began to endorse some skin care and mother & baby products.
In recent years, Li Na has served as a Mercedes-Benz global brand ambassador, she has worked with restaurant chain Element Fresh to create more healthy eating options, launched a new clothing line in partnership with Nike and a movie project “Li Na”, directed by Chen Kexin, will enter production later this year.
But as her commercial value has continued to rise, Li Na has never forgotten her core values, and has been actively engaged both in popularizing and developing the sport of tennis and in giving back to society. She has personally taken part in campaigns with her husband that aim to prevent drink driving and is also actively involved with philanthropy.
Li Na once commented while pregnant that “philanthropy is the best prenatal education”, but she already had a keen interest in philanthropy even as an athlete, not only donating some of her prize money from tournaments to charity, but also working with the China Children’s Charitable Foundation to raise money for orphans and disabled children.
Li Na today enrolls at CKGSB alongside more than 300 students, including world-famous pianist Zhao Yinyin, who has been described by Sir Yehudi Menuhin as “a talented pianist, an extraordinary musician, and true artist”. They and their classmates will now take a compulsory philanthropy module as part of their studies. CKGSB is also the first business school in China that requires students to complete 48 hours of philanthropy service as a prerequisite of graduation.