As usual, Alibaba founder Jack Ma charmed crowds earlier this week at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos with his patented mixture of memories from his “unlucky” past: “Harvard rejected me 10 times” and his dreams for his company’s future: “Alibaba is doing something that human beings have never tried.”
In a video interview for Davos at the World Economic Forum, Ma began by recalling his trip to the “The Global Leaders For Tomorrow” forum in 2001. When he arrived in Switzerland and saw people protesting against globalization, he recalls thinking “Globalization is a great thing! Why don’t people like it?”
According to Ma, the first internet search he ever made was “beer” and he was astounded to see products from many countries, but not China. He went on to say that only after he noticed the first Chinese website did he think, “This is interesting, we should do something.”
To start with Ma came up with the best name he could think of, Alibaba, which reminded people of the tales of forty thieves and, “Open Sesame.” However, he told the crowd that people expressed doubts over the future of e-commerce in China. Business in China is based on “guanxi,” which he calls a relationship built on trust, and online relationships tend to be impersonal. Alipay, Alibaba’s version of PayPal, has proved them all wrong by connecting over 800 million people, according to Ma.
In an answer to a question about Alibaba’s relationship with the government, Ma says, “Be in love with the government, but don’t marry them.” Some say the CCP created a market monopoly for the company in its beginning, which helped Alibaba to grow without competition. Ma claims it was he who convinced government officials in the first place that the internet could be a good thing for China, creating jobs and supplementing the local economy.
He also claims to be a charitable man, referencing all the “millions” of train tickets his company purchased for farmers returning home last Spring festival. Though he did note that “It’s harder to donate money to Chinese charities than earn it.”
Ma said that unlike US corporations such as Google and Apple, his company does not give the government access to personal information about Alibaba users and predicted that “In 10 years we’ll be bigger than Walmart.”
When that happens, we bet Harvard is going to start feeling really dumb.
Much more pearls of wisdom to be picked up here: