Born on October 15, 1964, in Hangzhou in the southeastern region of China, Jack Ma grew up in a communist China where his family didn’t have much money and education was the only way forward. From earning $12 a month as a teacher to becoming the richest person in China, Ma’s journey as an entrepreneur is replete with its own share of ups and downs.
Ma’s net worth is about $ 38.5 Bn, according to Forbes. Upon his retirement, Ma plans to return to the classroom to teach.
Founded in 1999, Alibaba started out in an underground garage and on the company’s 20th birthday, the founder himself is stepping away to retire. From 2000 onwards when Alibaba began recruiting workers, the sentiment was that an e-commerce company would not work in a market like China. Ma turned around the business model in order to help small businesses and enterprises grow their business and that played a crucial role in helping Alibaba embark upon a successful journey.
“If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure,” Ma says.
At present, Alibaba employs about 100,000 people and is investing heavily in cloud computing, financial services, and AI. The company happens to be the most valuable tech companies that are publicly listed in Asia with a market cap of $ 460 Bn.
An exit to remember
Jack Ma’s last day of work at Alibaba was that of a rock star. A four-hour celebration in an 80,000 capacity stadium complete with performers in costumes, dancing to dubstep and others in traditional Chinese dresses. Singers paid tribute to Ma’s own reputation of participating in parades with floats of Alibaba divisions such as Tmall and Ant Financial.
“After tonight, I will start a new life. I do believe the world is good, there are so many opportunities, and I love excitement so much, which is why I will retire early,” Ma told employees. He even got emotional when members of his staff sang songs and put on skits.
Ma also wore rockstar-style leather jackets to perform Chinese pop songs along with other executive members of the company.
The 996 controversy
Earlier this year, Jack Ma featured in the headlines for what is now known as the “996 philosophy.” He had spoken in favor of the 12-hour workdays in China’s tech industry. He shared his opinion that those who worked longer hours get “rewards of hard work.”
“If we find things we like, 996 is not a problem,” Ma said in a post on Weibo. “If you don’t like [your work], every minute is torture.”
Inspite of the controversy surrounding Ma’s statement, his perspective as a leader is worth noting wherein the philosophy is that success cannot be achieved without putting in a high level of effort, passion, and time.
Letter to the shareholders
Last year, when Jack Ma announced his decision to step down as chairman of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, the letter that he shared with his customers, employees, and shareholders revealed how the leader of the tech giant had been focusing on the future of Alibaba for the last decade or so.
“We asked ourselves this question 10 years ago--how could Alibaba achieve sustainable growth after Jack Ma leaves the company? We believed the only way to solve the problem of corporate leadership succession was to develop a system of governance based on a unique culture and mechanisms for developing consistent talent and successors. For the last 10 years, we kept working on these ingredients.”
Jack Ma’s decision and planning showed that in order to build a sustainable business, no organization can completely rely only on its founders. Moreover, just relying on particular individuals does not make a holistic business plan. The right balance between people, culture, and systems is crucial for the overall success of an organization.
Mass weddings for employees through Ali Day
Under Jack Ma’s leadership, Alibaba started doing employee engagement differently. Known for eye-popping events and displays, Alibaba hosts an annual Ali Day when the company celebrates its employees and families.
A major feature of Ali Day includes mass wedding celebrations that are presided over by Jack Ma. The start of Ali Day started at the backdrop of an outbreak of SARS in 2002 when the respiratory illness claimed the lives of about 774 people in total. When an employee showed symptoms of SARS, about 400 staff members of Alibaba continued to dedicatedly work from home for eight days.
In order to recognize this spirit that displayed a passion for work, this day came to be celebrated as the day for employees.
“Every 10th of May, we will host a series of activities to acknowledge and inspire the spirit of Alibaba in every Aliren. You will see, hear and feel the corporate values of Alibaba in stories of people around us. You will know how these values have worked miracles in ordinary life,” Ma shared via a press release.
The wedding ceremony that takes place is not an official wedding but a celebration of all the couples who have gotten married over the last year.
Start of Alibaba in an apartment
On the 20th anniversary of Alibaba, Jack Ma revisited the apartment where it all began.
“I remember that the first day we came back, we took all the luggage here and I told everybody that this is the place we’re going to work for a year probably. The goal at that time was to become one of the top 10 websites in the world,” Ma said.
Even at the nascent stage of Alibaba, Ma had big dreams for the company. The primary aim was to enable small businesses, enterprises and the youth of the country to enter the internet world and “empower them, enable them to realize their dreams.”
As a small team living in the same house day-in and day-out working dedicatedly towards the goal of becoming among the top 10 websites in the world, there were bound to be disputes and fights among the employees. Ma foresaw the future of Alibaba and ensured that even a small team of employees continued to remain engaged in the work and passionate about the company’s mission.
“I said you guys remember now, we’re lucky we’re in a small room. I believe in 10, 15 years, you cannot even find each other. You probably work in Beijing, you probably work in Shanghai, somebody would work in the United States. You probably don’t meet each other. So we should respect now, appreciate the days we’re together,” Ma said.