Grass-to-Grace Story of Jack Ma – Co-founder of Alibaba Group

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Ma Yun popularly known as ‘Jack Ma’ is a self-made billionaire who started as a teacher in a local University from where he graduated and currently one of the richest man in China with an estimated net worth of $35.9 billion ( as at September 2018 ).

Ma is the founder of Alibaba Group and a stakeholder  at  Alipay, an e-commerce and e-payment portal respectively. Recently, Ma holds only 7.8% stake in Alibaba and 50% stake in Alipay. Ma is a motivational speaker, an actor who uses comic to cheer up his audience and employee, a philanthropist, a role model for young entrepreneur and an environmentalist.

The story Jack Ma is a good example of ‘grass- to- grace’. Ma came from a low class family, a scrawny looks but his ambition, courage, optimism and never give up attitude kept him going. He was never brain-washed that since his family is in a low class, he does not have that connection he cannot make it. No matter how many times Ma failed, he never gave up. He ince said in a tape to a gathering of employees “we will make it because we are young and we never, never give up”. How many of our youths today can say this today and work towards it? Today, the courage and optimism of Ma has impacted the economy and internet industry of China. Ma’s story should be an inspiration for young entrepreneurs and undergraduates.

Childhood Days

Jack Ma was born on 15th of October, 1964 to parents who earn a living from ‘Ping tan’ performance (a traditional  storytelling and ballad singing). Hence, his family was considered as middle class during those days since they did’nt make enough money. Ma was raised along with two siblings- an elder brother and a younger sister in Hangzhou, South-eastern part of China. According to Ma, he was scrawny when he was growing up, but he was a terrific fighter who was never afraid of components bigger than him. He was teased for his size and looks so he always engage in fight with his classmates.

Ma’s love for English language started at his tender age. He goes to a local hotel every day , 70miles on his bicycle so that he could converse with English speakers. He also bought  radio to listen to English broadcast everyday. The former US president, Richard Nixon visited Hangzhou in 1972 and helped improved the tourism in the area. Ma used the opportunity to give tourists who came to his home town tours from where he practiced his English. In the process of the tour, he met a foreign girl, they became friends and she helped him learn English. She could not spell or pronounce his name so she nick-named him Jack.

Twice Ma failed the college entrance exam but after constant reading and practice especially in Mathematics, he tried the third time and finally got in. He also applied and wrote to Harvard University ten times for admission and was rejected at all time. He graduated from Hangzhou Teachers institute (now called Hangzhou Normal University) in 1988 with a Bachelors Degree in English. His leadership spirit started at the college. He was the head of students council.

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Jack Ma is married to Zhang Ying, a teacher he met at school. According to Zhang Ying, Ma is not handsome, but she fell in love with him because he can do so many things handsome men cannot do. They are parents to 2 children- a daugther and a son , an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. Ma later enrolled at Beijing-based Cheug  Kong graduate school of business and graduated in 2006.

Ma is an environmentalist who developed interest in the environment after a member of his wife family became sick with an illness suspected to be caused by environmental pollution.

Early Days In His Career

After Ma graduated from school, he applied for about 30 different jobs but was rejected by all.

Most times, we discourage people with our words never minding if it hurts or not especially when they need our help. But life is full of twist and turns. Those who tends to hurt  or discourage people with their words forgets the incidence and their words but the people whom the words are meant for do not forget such words, the hour, minute, seconds and the environment it occurred.  On the other way round, those words could be a source of motivation and a revenge to the  speaker on a future date.

There are two unforgettable experience of Ma in the course of seeking for job. First, was when he applied for a job with the police, others were taken for the job expect him. They said to him “you are no good”. Another incident was when Kenturkey (KFC) came to his city and needed managers. Twenty-four people including Ma went for the job but all twenty- three were accepted expect Ma. At this point, most people especially in Africa will push the blame to their village people or start looking for person(s) behind their failure. Ma accepted it as not being perfect for the job, overcame the pains and used the opportunity to learn and grow more instead of relenting.

However, Ma became an English teacher in his alma mater earning $12 as monthly salary. He never gave up on his dreams of learning English Language.

Starting Chinapage

As China export boom, Ma started a company which translates Chinese to English for easy transaction. In 1995, he visited US for a government undertaking project related to building of highway. A friend introduced him to computer and internet. Although he has heard of it but it was rare in China because of high cost as at that time. Out of excitement, the first time he searched for on the mosaic browser. There were so many results in different countries except China. In curiosity, Ma searched for general information about China but still found nothing. At this point, Ma  found out something was lacking and needed to be fixed.

When he got back to his city, he created a website for China and launched it. Few hours the website was launched, he received e-mails from some Chinese investors who wished to know him. As time went on, Ma needed capital to boast the business. His wife and a friend helped him to raise $20,000 and the company was set and named ‘Chinapage’. In three years, the company made $800,000 then. With the help of his friends in US, he built more websites.

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In the fourth year, Chinapage began to struggle. He decided to venture into joint business venture with China Telecom owned by the government. Majority of the control of Chinapage was given to the government. With this, Ma control and vision for the company could not be executed so he left the company.

After the debacle of Chinapage, Ma distaste government officials approached him to help them solve a crashing ticket vending system, he offered to help fix the problem with his team for free. At the end the officials backed out but being a man who has focus, he worked for a short period under the government at the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation.

Alibaba Vision, Start Up and Growth

In 1999, Ma decided to try again. He met 17 friends and invited them to his apartment. After convincing them, they invested and joined in building an online market place.

Alibaba was the name given to the newly found company. According to company lore, Ma came up with the name while sitting in a San Francisco coffee shop, in ‘Ali Baba and the forty thieves’. The company allows exporters to post their products for buyers to see and order and it attracted people from different parts of the world.

In October 1999, Goldman Sachs invested $5million, while SoftBank, a Japanese Telecom company invested $20 million into Alibaba. Ma encountered Jerry Yaung  a cofounder of Yahoo and he invested $1 billion in Alibaba.

The company continued growing out of China’s shell and expanded across the world. Ma motivated his team with his way of captivating speeches and performance on stage to become giants.  Among his employees, he creates a fun and relaxing atmosphere even if it means using his own money.

As the company grew very fast, Ma ran out of cash and in 2001, he laid off his entire international staff including Alibaba’s US office. Although, he regretted rendering some people jobless. He founded many tech company like Taobao, Alipay, Alimama, Tmall, etaa, Aliexpress.com, Juhuasuan, 1688.com, Alibaba cloud computer and Lynx.

In  the mid 2000, when Alibaba was battling with eBay in China, he used some business strategies like animated manner of speaking, bold goals, free advertising, saying crazy things for advertising to win customers and investors to Alibaba. Reporters therefore called him “crazy jack”.

Today, Alibaba is one of the biggest e-commerce network in the world and Taoboa is one of the top twenty most visited websites globally.
Ma stepped down from CEO of Alibaba groups in 2013 and made Jonathan Lu the previous company’s senior vice-president. According to him, being a good chairman is much busier than being a CEO. Ma only holds 7.8% stake in Alibaba and 50% stake in Alipay. In September 2018, Jack Ma made his intention to step down as CEO of Alibaba Group in a year’s time.

His Achievements

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Jack Ma is one of the richest man in china with a net worth of $38.6 billion and listed among the world most powerful people by Forbes. A prominent man seen as a  global ambassador for Chinese business and role model for young entrepreneurs. Ma was ranked second in the annual worlds’ 50 greatest leaders by Fortune in 2017. Ma is often invited to lecture at Peking University. Ma is the owner of Chateau de sours in Bordeaux, Chateau Guerry in Cotes de Bourg and Chateau Perenne in Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux.

In 2017,Ma made Kung Fu short film debut in collaboration with the Double shopping carnival for singles day. He also participated in singing festival and performed dance at Alibaba’s 18th anniversary.

Ma has received so many honorary doctoral awards in business science and technology and lots of awards. Ma is a great philanthropist. He hosts an annual talent show every year in a very big stadium that gets employees rehearsing. He blesses hundreds of newly wed Alibaba employees. In 2010, he was selected for Forbes Asia as one of Asia’s heroes of philanthropist for his contribution to disaster relieved and poverty .

Despite being among the most powerful people in the world he still shows consign for the environment. This shows that environment is very important to both the poor and the rich. In 2013, he was the chairman of the board of the Nature Conservancy’s China program. This was immediately he stepped down as the CEO of Alibaba groups. He also announced that Alibaba group would remit 0.3% of annual revenue to environmental protection.
Infact, according to Jack Ma, of the future of Alibaba , ” Our challenge is to help more people to make healthy money,’ Sustainable money ‘,money that is not only good for ourselves but also good for the future”.

Some Best Quotes by Jack Ma

“We keep fighting. We keep changing ourselves. We don’t complain” – Jack Ma

“Believing in yourself. Being persistent in the face of adversities and treating rejections and failures as opportunities to prepare yourself ahead” – Jack Ma

“Go big or Go home” – Jack Ma

“Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worst, but the day after tomorrow will be sun shine” – Jack Ma

“You should learn from your competitors, but never copy. Copy and you die” – Jack Ma

About the writer:

This was written by Chiamaka Uduezue, content contributor at MyAfribusiness.com. She is a graduate of Environmental Management and enjoys learning new things and sharing knowledge with others.

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