We’re just two months away from entering a new year. And if you are looking for some inspiration to chart your journey into 2020 as a business leader par excellence, this is the story you want to read. Learn how Jack Ma, co-founder of the Alibaba Group, didn’t just dream big, but made it happen. He has rewritten the rules of the e-commerce game, become ‘China’s richest man’ and has gone on to become ‘the most flamboyant tech founder on the planet’.
Jack Ma – A man with great emphasis on learning
Born Ma Yun on 10th September 1964 in Hangzhou, China, Ma worked as a tourist guide for nine years so that he could practice spoken English. Interestingly, it was an American tourist who nicknamed him Jack when they were pen-pals. Although he was Head of the Student Council in school, college was not easy. He struggled to obtain his degree and then enrolled himself at a teaching institute to become a lecturer in English at Hangzhou Dianzi University.
In 1994, Ma started his first company, Hangzhou Haibo Translation Agency. The following year, he visited the US with his friends for a better understanding of the World Wide Web. There he realised that China and Chinese products found no mention on the internet. This motivated him to start his second company, chinapages.com, which he registered in the US. In three years, the company earned about USD 800,000!
The birth of Ali Baba – A global inspiration
For the next few years, Ma headed an IT company established by the China International Electronic Commerce Center, a department of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation. He quit in 1999 to return to Hangzhou with his team to found Alibaba, China’s answer to Amazon. Ma firmly believed in an open market economy that caters to customer needs. Soon, his company revealed the mega potential of small and mid-sized (SMEs) businesses across the globe. In 2014, Alibaba raised USD 25 billion, the largest initial public offering in US financial history to become one of the world’s most profitable technology companies.
The rejections en route – A tale of extraordinary perseverance
Ma’s parents worked as musical storytellers and growing up, he had little exposure to the world of business. Life threw him his fair share of rejections and failures, teaching the entrepreneur important lessons in patience and perseverance. His first tryst with failure was during college graduation, when he could not succeed in clearing the Chinese entrance exams until his fifth attempt!
He applied 10 times to Harvard Business School; he was rejected every time. Ma also applied for 30 different jobs, including one at KFC, but failed to hear back from any of them! The failures only strengthened his tenacity and will to succeed. Today, he inspires people with his stories urging them to remain steadfast in the face of obstacles. An entertainer at heart, Ma enjoys singing and dancing. Did you know that he made his acting debut in 2017 with a Kung Fu short film?
The richest man in China – More than a serial entrepreneur
Four years after Alibaba received the USD 25 billion funding, Ma announced his plans for retirement as Executive Chairman to pursue educational work. He is seen as a global ambassador for Chinese business, and a role model for start-ups.
As of October 2019, Ma is one of China’s richest men, with a net worth of USD 37.9 billion. He also featured in the Forbes’ list of World’s Most Powerful People and World’s Greatest Leaders. However, he remains frugal in his daily life, with humble hobbies like meditation, reading and Tai Chi.
In 2015, he launched Alibaba Hong Kong Young Entrepreneurs Foundation to support entrepreneurs in Hong Kong. The same year, the company funded the rebuilding of 10,000 houses damaged by the earthquake-hit in Nepal. This year, the Foundation launched the Netpreneur initiative that grants a million US dollars each to 10 African entrepreneurs annually, and launched a fund with USD 14.6 million to develop education in Tibet.