Nine years ago, Alibaba Group was founded in Hangzhou, transforming the e-commerce industry in China. Jack Ma stands out as a tech company founder with no background in technology and has now become the most inspirational Chinese entrepreneur. There have been different public opinions about Jack Ma while most people show great interest in how he discovered business opportunities and managed the Alibaba empire without any technical knowledge and how he had attracted a crop of high-tech talents to follow him. From the speech by Porter Erisman, Alibaba’s former Vice President, you may get a better understanding of the “Jack Ma Magic”.
Be yourself Jack
"Let’s meet in Shanghai and have some fun. This was the first email that Jack Ma sent me in March, 2000. It was more like from an excited child, rather than a CEO that had just received funds of $2.5 million from Goldman Sachs and Japan’s Softbank. A few weeks later, I joined the party that held by Alibaba to celebrate the opening of a new office in Shanghai. Jack gave a speech, but seemed to be distracted by the bright light and kept changing topics, making him look like an inexperienced singer performing in a concert.
I met Joe, Alibaba’s CFO, and signed a contract in Hong Kong. Several days later, Jack gave his speech there. He said: “I used to be an English teacher, and I don’t know how to operate a company. So in another four years, I will resign from the position of CEO, and hand the company over to the new generation of managers. We will probably earn a lot of money, but currently, don’t be too anxious about returns”. Undoubtedly, his talk has evoked controversy.
For members in the Hong Kong office, Jack was out of place. “He did not express the right meaning at all.” When he said we are going to create something, those in Hong Kong were just scornful. They thought earning money was the only goal, but for Jack, the destination was to change the world. They thought Jack Ma was having a negative effect on the corporate image, and should not speak in this way.
The journalist of Forbes wanted to write an article about Alibaba, so I invited him to China. Before the interview, Jack asked me: “What do you think I should say?” I told him: Just be yourself, because that‘s what led you here."
First of all, remember that you are a man.
"In January, 2001, Savio, with management experience of more than 25 years, became the COO. He noticed that the financial status was getting worse, and made a decisive decision to cut the majority of foreign employees. At the end of 2001, Jack told me that he, Joe, John and Savio would reduce their salary. “I want you to know that you are now the highest paid.”
In 2003, I went back to Alibaba, and promised to have my pay cut. In my eyes, Jack Ma is somethings like Forrest Gump, he is an interesting man, so I would like to follow him. One day, Jack Ma walked into my office, and said: “We are going to declare war on eBay.” Jack realised that eBay was going to make a massive inroad into the Chinese market, and asked me to issue a challenge by launching Taobao. Jack was born with strong instincts, and relies on intuitions, and, amazingly, 90% of his senses turned out to be right.
2004 was an unusual year. We involved eBay into a war of words, which attracted the strong attention of Chinese media. Jack values tactics, and does not care too much about details. Joe is his best partner: a lawyer is always detail-oriented. Alibaba is like a drama, and people in it need to have a sense of humour. Particularly in a working environment that breeds global business and shares different culture, there are always some people who are causing trouble. But Jack would bring the problems up for public discussion.
No Jack Ma, no Alibaba. The great thing about Jack Ma lies in his leadership. He could explain his goals in a way that all found inspirational. Everyone has a dream – that’s how he feeds into the softest spot. He is not only a convincing entrepreneur, but also a philosopher. Whilst I am proud of completing a documentary film, he would want a film company. To dream big, that is what he taught me.
I could see that he was changing too. At the very beginning, whether during talk with others, or speeches in the public, he told the same stories. Though lacking professional study on business, he read extensively, communicated with business leaders to fill the gap. Jack said most of the businessmen are fixated on talking about business or companies, because they dare to speak out. “If you want to give a speech, remember to be yourself, and being a businessman is not your only role."
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