Alibaba’s Jack Ma – China’s Richest Man

Edited by: Paul Chong / 18 November 2014 Source: USA Today/Forbes/Bloomberg


Jack Ma

Whatever the mind of man can conceive & believe, it can achieve.” – Dr. Napoleon Hill (“Think & Grow Rich”)

His Chinese name Ma Yun (马云) denotes that he’s a Horse (Surname ), perhaps a Dark Horse, in his case. His other name () meaning Clouds could indicate that he’s been dreaming from up high. Significantly, he’s uniquely in a league of the highest order.

Jack Ma or Ma Yun (Chinese: 马云; born October 15, 1964 is a Chinese entrepreneur and philanthropist. He is the founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, a family of highly successful Internet-based businesses. He is the first mainland Chinese entrepreneur to appear on the cover of Forbes. As of November 2014, he is the richest man in China and 18th richest man in the world with an estimated net worth of $29.7 billion, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index.(Wikipedia)

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, China’s largest e-commerce business, topped the Top 400 China Rich List with US$195 billion wealth, according to the latest Forbes ranking release.

Jack Ma received world-wide attention thanks to Alibaba’s recent massive IPO in New York. How Hong Kong, often the gateway to China’s Listing, must be disappointed to miss this tremendous opportunity. Though scrawny & standing just over 5ft tall, he now stands among the financial giants in the financial world.

Ma was followed by Robin Li, founder of Baidu, the largest search engine in China, and Ma Huateng, Chairman and CEO of Tencent, one of China’s largest internet companies.

“China’s internet entrepreneurs have started to catch up with iconic people in the industry in the United States such as Paul Allen, Eric Schmidt, Jerry Yang and Sheryl Sandberg”, Russell Flannery, Shanghai bureau chief for Forbes said. “In the era that e-commerce and mobile services become more and more popular, even if China can’t surpass the United States, it can share a large amount of fortune,” Flannery continued.

Former English teacher Ma captured the world stage like no other Chinese businessman before him in September with the record-breaking $25 billion initial public offering of e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba Group on the New York Stock Exchange. The listing turned him into China’s richest man and enriched Alibaba shareholders Softbank and Yahoo. Up next: a higher profile for Alibaba’s payments affiliate, Ant Financial Services Group. Ma will also need to weave together more than a dozen investments – from a stake in a soccer team to a film production studio – that Alibaba made this year. He is likely to make time for his philanthropy. Ma sits on the board of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences with fellow power person Mark Zuckerberg and Yuri Milner, among others.(Forbes)

When I first started Alibaba, I was immediately met with strong opposition from family and friends. Looking back, I realised that the biggest driving force for me then was not my confidence in the Internet and the potential it held, but more of this:  “No matter what one does, regardless of failure or success, the experience is a form of success in itself.” You have got to keep trying, and if it doesn’t work, you always can revert back to what you were doing before. 

Initial meeting with friends at Jack's home
Initial meeting with friends at Jack’s home

Jack Ma: Before I founded Alibaba, I invited 24 friends to my house to discuss the business opportunity. After discussing for a full two hours, they were still confused — I have to say that I may not have put myself across in a clear manner manner then. The verdict: 23 out of the 24 people in the room told me to drop the idea, for a multitude of reasons, such as: ‘you do not know anything about the internet, and more prominently, you do not have the start-up capital for this’ etc etc.

There was only one friend (who was working in a bank then) who told me, “If you want to do it, just try it. If things don’t work out the way you expected it to, you can always revert back to what you were doing before.” I pondered upon this for one night, and by the next morning, I decided I would do it anyway, even if all of the 24 people opposed the idea.

As with this quote by T.E. Lawrence – “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream in the dark recesses of the night awake in the day to find all was vanity. But the dreamers of day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, and make it possible.”
Jack Ma: People lose out in life because of these 4 reasons:

“Being myopic to opportunity

Looking down on opportunities

Lacking understanding

Failing to act quickly enough”

You are poor, because you have no ambition.”

Ambition is living a life of great ideals; a magnificent goal in life that must be realised”.

In this world, there are things that are deemed unfathomable, but there is nothing in this world that cannot be done. The depth of one’s ambition determines the potential of one’s future.

Revealing his ambition – and a love of numbers common in China – Jack Ma says Alibaba will last 102 years so the Internet empire he founded in 1999 can span three centuries.

Under Ma’s maverick leadership, the 15-year-old firm has already bridged a period of extraordinary change in global trade and the Chinese economy. He raised a still-growing giant whose U.S. initial public offering, which will start trading under the BABA ticker Friday, is the largest in history.


His rags-to-riches journey is just as spectacular. A scrawny Ma, just over 5 feet tall, was rejected by KFC and other employers in his hometown of Hangzhou in east China. He believed in the Internet’s business potential when few other Chinese did. Outlandish ideas earned him the nickname “Crazy Jack Ma.” No one thinks he’s mad now, even when dressing in wild wigs and lipstick for his annual meeting where he serenades a stadium full of Alibaba employees.

Ma’s readiness to make fun of himself, and speak his mind, stands in contrast to China’s often conservative corporate barons. Charismatic and energetic, this former teacher has become an inspiration to millions across China. He flunked at math but loved English, and countless books and DVDs sell his business lessons in every airport lounge.

Ma – now stars in the coming-out party for China’s private sector onto the world stage. He praises and uses Western management techniques but also quotes regularly from Chairman Mao Zedong. He is a fan of China’s kung fu novels and made those legends part of his company’s culture. He travels the world with a tai chi trainer.

His parents performed a type of musical storytelling that was banned during Mao’s devastating Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1976. Chinese parents back then, Ma’s father beat him growing up. But there were childhood pleasures, too. He liked collecting and fighting crickets, an ancient pastime that Mao also banned. Ma developed an expert ear, able to distinguish the type and size of cricket just by the sound, his friend and personal assistant at Alibaba, Chen Wei, wrote in his 2013 book on Ma.

Ma’s grandfather, a local official under the Nationalist Party that Mao defeated, was persecuted as an enemy of the Communist revolution. Ma and his relatives all suffered at that time, wrote Chinese author Zhang Yongsheng in a 2009 biography.

Starting at age 12, Ma says he awoke at 5 a.m. to walk or bicycle to Hangzhou’s main hotel so he could practice his English with foreign tourists, who started trickling into the country after Mao’s death in 1976. He did this for nine years and acted as a free tour guide to many, befriended several and later visited one family in Australia.

Those experiences opened his eyes. “I realised what they told me was quite different from what I had learned in school or heard from my parents,” Ma told Xiao-Ping Chen, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, in an interview published last year.


After twice failing the national college entrance exams, Ma entered what he called “Hangzhou’s worst college.” Graduating in 1988, Ma married his college sweetheart and taught English at a local college for five years, earning $15 a month. During that time, he also applied for, and failed to land, jobs at a local KFC, a hotel and the city police.

Determined to enter business, Ma set up a translation company, but he still had to peddle goods on the street to get by. He traveled to the United States in 1995 as a translator to help a Chinese firm recover a payment. The attempt failed, and the American who owed money pulled a gun on him, Ma says. But a friend in Seattle showed Ma the Internet, and an idea began brewing.

Ma noticed there was not a single online listing for “China” and “beer,” unlike those that popped up for American and German beer. He returned to China and set up a listing site that he later sold to the government. After working in Beijing for an Internet firm under the Ministry of Commerce, Ma returned home to Hangzhou to pursue his dream.


With the help of more than a dozen friends who pooled their resources – just $60,000 – he founded Alibaba, a business-to-business online platform. The company now makes more profit than rivals and e-Bay combined, as China’s burgeoning middle class are big spenders online, and small companies rely on Alibaba and its online payment system.

Ma seized opportunities as China was transforming into a market economy. At the time, the Internet was first being promoted, and small, private businesses struggled to get loans and had to compete against government-protected state firms, said economist Feng Pengcheng, director of the China Research Center for Capital Management at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

“The business model Ma Yun created in China suited the Chinese market. It might be a failure in the U.S. market, but it’s so successful in China,” Feng said. “What’s more, Ma Yun is good at cooperating with other talents. His company culture and his personal charm attracted employees, and his slogans are uplifting,” he said.

Chen Wei, Ma’s friend & personal assistant, writes:

“For a billionaire so outspoken on company and business issues, Ma says little about his family and manages to keep his private life quiet and scandal-free. Ma and his wife Zhang Ying have a son, an undergrad at the University of California-Berkeley, where Ma had audited classes. A black-and-white photo of a young Ma with his older brother and younger sister went viral this month in China’s cyberspace, as many people were unaware their richest citizen even had siblings.”

“Ma Yun’s lifestyle is very simple and modest. His hobbies are still tai chi and kung fu novels,” Chen, his friend and assistant, said last week from Boston, while accompanying Ma on Alibaba’s U.S. roadshow before the IPO.

“I don’t think he has changed much, he is still that old style. After the IPO, I am sure his lifestyle will be simpler. He won’t change,” Chen said. In his book, being published in English this month, Chen said Ma enjoys meditation in the mountains, playing poker with friends and writing his own kung fu fiction. By Ma’s own account, he believes in both Buddhism and Taoism, and follows many tenets of Confucianism.


“My father said if you were born 30 years ago, you’d probably be in a prison, because the ideas you have are so dangerous,” Ma told Charlie Rose in a 2011 TV interview. Despite such bravado for a Western audience, Ma has always been careful in China to avoid statements and actions that could jeopardize his business.

Ma resigned last year as Alibaba’s CEO, but he clearly remains in charge as the firm’s executive chairman. He has hinted at exploring more “cultural” pursuits, such as film-making, education and environmental protection.

“One issue facing China is that people’s wallets are bulging, but their heads are empty,” he told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post last year. Ma also promises more philanthropy, including what may be China’s largest charity foundation. Expect to hear plenty more from maverick Ma.

Let this be an inspiration to all.

I am but an average man in the street who once emailed Alibaba over a year ago about purchasing an Ab-Exercising Machine, but till today I keep receiving brochures & other info from the Company.

Never Give Up!


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