Marketing & Branding

Jack Ma – The incredible story of Alibaba Owner / Founder

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Rags to riches story like no other, we are showcasing none other than Jack Ma, the founder of the multinational tech conglomerate, Alibaba group.

Who is Jack Ma?

When you think of e-tail in China, Alibaba is among the first names to pop-up in our mind. At the helm of it was Jack Ma, the Chinese business magnate who was its co-founder and former executive chairman of the Alibaba Group.

Jack Ma was from a middle-class family but boy, did the chap has a stroke of luck in everything he touched? An eye for opportunity propelled him to be the multi-millionaire that he is today.

Second-wealthiest man in China

Ma is now the second-wealthiest man in China, with a net worth of $42.1 billion. Another feather to his cap is the fact that he is one of the wealthiest people in the world, ranked 17th by Forbes in April 2020.

Being one of the pioneers of business in China, he is also the global ambassador for Chinese business. Forbes ranked him 21st on its “World’s Most Powerful People”. He is a familiar name listed as one of the world’s most powerful people and is a role model for many startups. Ma is also a strong proponent of the open and market-driven economy as an ideology.

He grabbed second place in the annual “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” list by Fortune in 2017. Ma stepped down from Alibaba in September 2018. He is now involved with various educational work, philanthropy, and contributing to various environmental causes.

Meet the Alibaba owner and founder

Jack Ma is the founder of one of China’s, and the world’s biggest e-commerce giant, Alibaba. He is also a stakeholder at Alipay, an e-payment portal, which is its sister concern.

“Alibaba Group Holding Limited” or known to us simply as “Alibaba” is a Chinese multinational technology company. You must be familiar with their very popular retail wing, but they are also into Internet and technology services.

Alibaba was founded on 4th April, 1999 in Hangzhou in the Zhejiang province of China.

The company’s business ranges from consumer-to-consumer (C2C), business-to-consumer (B2C), and business-to-business (B2B) sales and services. They are all facilitated through the internet and stand as a testament of its size and reach. The company also has under its wing electronic payment services, shopping search engines and cloud computing services. Besides this, Alibaba also owns and manages various businesses around the world in multiple sectors.

If you think Alibaba is just a local Chinese website, you are far from wrong. Alibaba is worth more than Facebook, and the company processes more goods than its counterparts, eBay and Amazon, combined!

Biggest U.S. IPO in history

Let’s put this into numbers. At closing time on the day, 19 September 2014, of its initial public offering (IPO) – US$25 billion(the world’s highest in history )– Alibaba’s market value was US$231 billion. Alibaba is the biggest U.S. IPO in history.

Not surprisingly, Alibaba is one of the top 10 most valuable and the 59th biggest public company in the world according to Global 2000 list. (Source)

The story of Jack Ma

It may seem like Jack Ma inherited a huge chunk of wealth that he managed quite well. On the contrary, the man is the embodiment of many, many failures which made him persistent, and into building a strong and successful career.

Jack Ma or ‘Ma Yun'(his maiden name) was born on 10th September 1964 in Hangzhou district in China. His English sounding name comes from his childhood spent bicycling tourists in his area as he tried to study English by conversing with them. One of the foreigners whom he had ferried around, got close to him and they became pen pals. He began calling him Jack as he found his Chinese name difficult to pronounce.

Ma’s college years and afterwards is a story of tremendous struggle and let downs. Ma struggled through college and had to attempt The Chinese entrance exams(which is held every year) for three years to pass. He attended Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1988. The man did display leadership skills early, as he was the head of the student council at school.

He then went on to become a lecturer in English and International Trade at Hangzhou Dianzi University. Ma even applied to Harvard Business School ten times and got rejected every time. It does give us a clue about his interest in business but not in its academic equivalent.

Ma’s interviews always include his experience in applying to work at the KFC. Ma says “I even went to KFC when it came to my city. Twenty-four people went for the job. Twenty-three were accepted. I was the only guy …”. But dejection did not let him down.

Turn of events

The breakthrough in his career and life came in 1995. This was the event that brought whirlwind changes to his life and career.

In 1995, Jack Ma visited the US, as part of a Government undertaking project related to highways. That’s where he first heard of the Internet. This new technology wasn’t widespread in China and it was an expensive affair at that time. The first word the young man typed in was “Beer”, which yielded results from locations all over the world. But there were no results from China. While in the USA, he also tried to search for information about China and could find none. This sparked something in him.

The incident prompted him and his friend to create their first website related to China. This was just a gig but, surprisingly, 3 hours after it’s launch, he had many investors ringing him up to enquire about him.

Most people would be intimidated by a huge technology that was no-existent in their own country. But Jack Ma found his calling and leapt to the opportunity.

Following this, Ma and his friend, He Yibing(a computer teacher) opened their first office for China Pages. Ma also started his second company in April 1995.

In May of the same year, they registered their domain, Chinapages.com in the United States. It was a great start. In three years, the company earned 5,000,000 yuan, which is approximately US$800,000.

With this success, Ma began building websites for some Chinese companies with the help of friends in the US who assisted him. Later, as the internet started taking grip in the country, Ma was the head of an information technology company from 1998 to 1999 that was established by the China International Electronic Commerce Center.

Alibaba is born

In 1999, after his stint with helping many companies get on the internet, he decided to take the path of entrepreneurship. He quit his job and went back to Hangzhou where, with the help of his team, he founded Alibaba. It was a B2B China-based marketplace site that sprouted from his apartment.

His starting capital? 500,000 yuan.

The main challenge that Jack Ma had to face with his online payment and package transfers is building trust on this new medium of purchase. The Chinese people who were used to making straight transactions through a physical store, and very new to the idea of the internet, took time to get familiar and trust transactions through the new medium.

But, there’s no question that Alibaba was a hit. By October 1999, Alibaba was winning foreign investments one after the other. It won a total of $25 million during this time. In his effort to improve the global e-commerce system, he founded four enterprises by the name of Taobao Marketplace, Alipay, Ali Mama and Lynx, all in 2003.

Alibaba’s most striking achievement to date is its $25 billion initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014, making it the largest initial public offering in US financial history. ( source)

Fine and luxurious Investments

Ma also knew how to make wise investments around the globe. Ma expanded to gain the ownership of Chateau Guerry in Côtes de Bourg, Château de Sours in Bordeaux, and Château Perenne in Blaye, Côtes de Bordeaux vineyards in 2016. These are some of the oldest(dating back to the 18th century) and most expensive vineyards in the famous Bourdeaux region in France. This is a reflection of the Chinese obsession with the status that comes with owning a noble French chateau. (Source)

Jack Ma steps down

At the end of his journey with his company, Ma announced in 2019 that he would step down as executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holdings. Incidentally, this was also the twentieth year for his brainchild, Alibaba. Daniel Zhang W is the current executive chairman of Alibaba.

Today, Jack Ma has retired from his high profile titles to devote his time and energy towards philanthropy.

Jack Ma’s winning points

The multimillionaire has quite the story to tell. But what led him to climb the stairs of success so swiftly and efficiently?

  • He was an inspirer. His early years of teaching had taught him how to educate and empower people. The ability to influence people translated to his work. He was very involved with his team and was a constant figure of inspiration and encouragement to them. Ma put his energy in the people who were building his business and their well being.
  • He had the willpower and the audacity to approach new technology and make it his own. He wasn’t intimidated by it, but he saw a business in it and hired the right talents who would make his dream a reality. You should remember that he conquered the digital world without even having written a single line of code in his life.

What do we know of Jack Ma’s family?

Born in a traditional and middle-class family. Jack Ma’s parents were musicians and often storytellers, in an effort to support the family. Ma has said at various interviews that he grew up in a poor household but a happy one. He married his high school sweetheart, Zhang right after their graduation from Hangzhou Normal University. She was a constant support in all his business ventures. Zhang is also involved in many charities and organizations that stand for social and environmental causes, along with Ma.

The couple has a total of three children together. Ma likes to keep his personal life very private. We only know of one of his sons, a boy who was born in 1992. His name is Ma Yuankun, and he graduated from the University of California in Berkeley. There is very little information about his other kids as of now. (Source)

What is Jack Ma’s net worth?

At the reigns of one of the biggest retail chains that made him one of the most powerful people in the world, Jack Ma’s net worth is on everyone’s mind.

In 2015, Jack Ma was worth USD 23.1 billion which made him the 33rd richest person in the world. And the last we checked, as of April 2020, Ma has a net worth amounting to $42.1 billion. This makes him the second wealthiest person in China. By this scale, he is also one of the wealthiest people in the world and has been ranked 17th by Forbes. (Source)

Jack Ma’s biographies-Yet to get a detailed account

This story of a man who transformed the business scene with digital marketing, at an age when the internet was a rare commodity, is revolutionary. Innovators like him have been at the forefront of driving the internet’s popularity and realising its full potential today. If you are curious about Jack Ma’s life and times, here are some good reads on the life and times of Jack Ma.

Title: Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built

Author of the book: Duncan Clark
This book takes you through a clear account of the historical development of the multi-million dollar company and how it spread its wings in the IT sector. It is a source of inspiration for entrepreneurs and starkly showcases how to take on an industry by getting the fundamental right and starting local.

Title: Jack Ma: The Biography of a Self-Made Billionaire and CEO of Alibaba Group

Author of the book: R.G. Knight
A well put biography on the life of a man who didn’t do extraordinary things but did latch onto an imminent technology in extraordinary ways. The book shows you how an average person could have the foresight to introduce a new technology and find the right audience. If you are looking for a motivational read to get started on a new business idea, this may be your kick-start book.

Title: Jack Ma: A Biography of the Alibaba Billionaire

Author of the book: Ryan Rogers
If you need a crash course on this entrepreneur/millionaire, Rogers has done an excellent job in the narration of his life. This book gives you a whirlwind ride through the achievements and stumbles in Jack Ma’s life. A lot of fine details about Jack Ma’s life and rise to fame are still missing from the public eye, and it is very much evident in the missing lines in all books written on him. We can only wait for the man himself to narrate his journey in an autobiography before long!

Jack Ma’s quotes that inspire

The millionaire is quite the cult favourite among businessmen and aspiring entrepreneurs. It’s always the simple men who do great things that inspire us. Which is why Ma’s interviews are watched by people very closely and his killer quotes often trickle into conversations.

The man who took failure all through his career and education before building Alibaba has just the verse to keep you motivated.

On failures, he says,

“You have got to keep trying, and if it doesn’t work, you always can revert back to what you were doing before.”

For aspiring leaders, he often quotes,

“A good boss is better than a good company.”

He is also one for relatable wisdom as he says,

“When people think too highly of you, you have the responsibility to calm down and be yourself.”

Awards and Recognition that came for Jack Ma

When you do such excellent and fine work as Jack Ma, awards and recognitions don’t go without brushing you. Let’s take a quick look at the awards that Jack Ma was showered with.

  • In 2004, 5 years into Alibaba, Jack Ma was honoured the title of “Top 10 Economic Personalities of the Year” by the China Central Television (CCTV), one of his first recognitions.
  • In 2005, Jack Ma was selected as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum.
  • Come 2005, and the man is among the “25 Most Powerful Businesspersons in Asia” curated by Fortune.
  • He was the “Businessperson of the Year” by Businessweek in 2007.
  • Barron featured him as one of the 30 “World’s Best CEOs” in 2008.
  • The most significant of awards came in May 2009, when Time magazine listed Ma as one of the “world’s 100 most powerful people”. He made the same list again in 2014.
  • BusinessWeek crowns him as one of China’s “Most Powerful People”.
  • In 2010, Ma was picked by Forbes Asia as one of “Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy” for his immense contribution to disaster relief and poverty.
  • By November 2013, Ma also got an honorary doctoral degree by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
  • In 2014, Ma was ranked as the “30th most powerful person in the world”. This was in an annual ranking published by Forbes.
  • By 2017, Fortune had ranked Ma second on its “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” list.
  • In May 2019, Ma along with 16 influential global figures, was appointed as the new advocates for sustainable development goals by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. (Source)

In the news

After he stepped down as Alibaba’s Executive Chairman in September 2019 to be succeeded by CEO Daniel Zhang, the man was heavily involved in philanthropic work.

During the coronavirus pandemic, his foundation donated millions of masks and other medical supplies to the U.S., Europe, and Africa.

He said to The Times that this wasn’t the end of his work and he would now focus his time and fortune on education. The man was also heavily inspired by Bill Gates and is quoted to have said that what he learnt from Bill Gate is that, he can’t be as rich, but he can retire early. (source)

As we conclude the magical life of Jack Ma and the empire that he built, it is only right to keep this quote of his mind.
“Opportunity lies in the place where the complaints are.”

Branding & Digital Marketing Consultant and Founder of BrandLoom Consulting (A $1m startup). Help companies generate more revenue through digital marketing and branding. Growth Driver of Large Global Companies and Successful Startups. Built Sustainable & Profitable Businesses for over 100 Brands during 18 years long global career. Speaker at CII, CITI, ASSOCHAM and several prominent Industry Forums. Covered by TOI, ET, The Hindu, Silicon India, The CEO and many publications.

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