Jack Ma’s résumé is kind of weird. It essentially reads: Received teacher training qualifications. Failed entrance exam to further other educational pursuits. Rejected when applying to more than 30 companies, including KFC. Set up mid-1990s internet startup. Become second-richest man in China.
Obviously there are a few gaps there, but the Alibaba founder is the definition of a self-made billionaire. He learned English by traveling to a hotel 40 minutes away from his house in Hangzhou, China, and talking to tourists, giving them tours around the city for free to practice the language.
Frustrated in his efforts to get a job and intrigued by the nascent World Wide Web, Ma set up a company creating websites for Chinese businesses, a path that led him to set up Alibaba, a marketplace for Chinese companies to trade with each other.
The hustle (and English) he picked up giving tours to those tourists came in handy when acting as an interpreter for Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang on a trip to Beijing — Yahoo became a big investor in Alibaba, investing $1B in a stake now worth $40B.
Alibaba has grown into a behemoth, the world’s largest retail platform and one of its largest companies. The companies that use it transacted more than $450B in 2016, and its market capitalization is almost $400B. Its $25B IPO in 2014 was the largest in U.S. history.
Like Amazon, it is redefining how consumers and companies buy and receive goods, and doing it in the world's biggest marketplace. Its name is coming up increasingly often in global e-commerce and logistics discussions.
The company is no longer just a retail marketplace — it owns big stakes in a vast array of companies, including Ant Financial, which owns Alipay, China’s largest payments company. Alibaba itself is an “asset-lite” company. It holds no inventory at warehouses of its own and instead owns a 47% stake in Chinese logistics firm Cainiao.
In the same way, Ma has transcended the company and sector where he made his fortune.
Earlier this year, he met then-U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and told him Alibaba and its companies would help create 1 million jobs in the U.S. as a result of the increase in global trade they could facilitate, especially for small businesses. Having stepped back as chief executive of his company to take on the role of chairman, he is a global ambassador for the idea of free trade and what digital innovation can do for economies. — Mike Phillips
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