Jack Ma steps down from being chairman of Alibaba, the multinational company he co-founded from his apartment in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, East China, tomorrow (10 September).
Jack Ma, who was an English teacher when he set up Alibaba, named after the character Ali Baba in One Thousand and One Nights turned the company into the world’s largest retailer and e-commerce company, worth a staggering US$352.28 billion in December last year. Alibaba is one of the top 10 most valuable and biggest companies in the world.
Ma said in September last year he would step down as chairman on his 55th birthday, 10 September 2019, to devote his time to philanthropy.
He has a personal fortune of US$41 billion and has said he would be using it on his first love, education, following the footsteps of a fellow tech innovator he admires Bill Gates.
Jack Ma was an English teacher when he started Alibaba in his apartment in Hangzhou. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Here are Ma’s top 10 tips for success:
- Get used to rejection
Ma failed his college entrance exam twice before getting accepted on the third try. After graduating, he applied for jobs and got rejected 30 times, including by the police. When he applied at KFC among 24 applicants, 23 were accepted except him. During the World Economic Forum in 2016, he shared that he has applied to Harvard 10 times and has been rejected every time.
- Keep your dream alive
In a conference, Jack shared the secret code for Alibaba’s success. Just like the fictional character Ali Baba, he was able to enter a secret cave with the code “Open Sesame.” In a similar way, the people working at Alibaba’s secret code is ‘Keep your dream alive.’ They kept this in their mind and heart, knowing it may come true some day. And it did.
- Focus on culture
In an interview with Charlie Rose, Jack Ma explained the core competence of Alibaba is culture. Technology is an important tool. However, growing from 18 people to more than 20,000 young employees, they focused on the company’s mission, values and a culture of helping the company. This culture of building a great company instead of just making money is a key to success.
- Ignore the #littleman
When he was starting Alipay, some people told him it was not a good idea at all. Someone told him it was a stupid idea. He simply ignored the negative comments and the naysayers and continued with it. Now, Alipay has over 500 million users who are enjoying a secure way of paying online and mobile purchases.
- Get inspired
Jack Ma shared that he has learned many things from the movies like The Bodyguard, The Godfather, and Forrest Gump. He mentioned he was inspired by how actors deliver their lines, how singers deliver powerful performances. He realised when people act naturally and speak from the heart, they create great impact, and that is how he tries to inspire others, by being himself.
- Stay focused
Jack was asked by a reporter about business ideas he has said no to. As a CEO, he stated he declined many business ideas being peddled to him on a daily basis. However, if a business opportunity comes which is aligned with the company’s mission of making business easier, he would consider. But if someone comes to him simply stating an opportunity will make a lot of money, he would tell them he is not interested.
- Have a good name
He shared that he chose the name Alibaba for several reasons. One, since the Internet is global, they should have a name that is familiar around the world. He asked people on the streets when he was in San Francisco, and they all knew who Ali Baba was. Also, it starts with the letter ‘A’, which alphabetically would always appear on top.
- Customers are #1
Jack Ma shared that his philosophy of putting customers first, employees second, and shareholders third is the right belief. It is the customers that provide revenue for the company, and it is the employees that drive innovation. He recalled some people who asked him for shares before the IPO, who told him that they would be long-term stockholders, were also the first to sell when hard times came. However, the customers stayed, as well as the employees.
- Don’t complain, look for opportunities
Jack told an audience that he believes when people complain, there lies an opportunity. When people complain about some issues, some try to change the situation for the better. When they change things, they also change themselves for the better. And so, he advises young people should look for opportunities instead of complaining.
- Have passion
In his original sales pitch when starting Alibaba, he explained they are competing globally, not against Chinese websites, but sites made by companies in Silicon Valley. He encouraged his associates to have a startup attitude, not the usual 8-to-5 work attitude. He believes they are equal and as strong as the Americans when it comes to information systems and software. He also assured them that although the Internet is a bubble, the dream of the Internet will not burst. But they have to painfully pay for the dream for the next 3 to 5 years. He told them that IPO is the goal and they should keep their focus on it.
Ma is on the board of SoftBank Group Corp., one of Alibaba’s major shareholders and a Japanese corporation listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the World Economic Forum, chairman of the Zhejiang Chamber of Commerce, and chairman of the China Entrepreneur Club. In May 2019, he was renamed as a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) advocate by the United Nations. He has also served as co-chair of the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation of the United Nations since July 2018.
The Alibaba leadership team is Jack Ma, Executive Chairman; Joseph Tsai, Executive Vice Chairman; Daniel Zhang, Director and Chief Executive Officer and Michael Evans, Director and President; Eric Jing, Director; Masayoshi Son, director; Chee Tung, independent director; Walter Kwauk, independent director; Jerry Yang, independent director; Börje Ekholm, independent director; Wan Martello,
Tsai, who has an estimated net worth of US$9.6 billion, is about to be the sole investor in the NBA club, Brooklyn Nets, after agreeing to buy the remaining 51% of the club owned by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.