Words of Wisdom from Jack Ma



As part of the Global Shapers Community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum, I had an amazing opportunity to take part in an Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China which was held in September 2015. It’s a forum that has less of a political and more of a business, science and technology agenda. It is no exaggeration if I say this was the best conference I have ever attended, both in terms of content and participants.

Members of Global Shapers Community had their own private agenda for the event. Meetings with the leaders were probably the most exciting part of it. One of the meetings was with Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group.

Jack Ma doesn’t need an introduction — he’s among the most influential people in the world. He’s one of the richest men in China. His company’s IPO was the most successful in the history of business. But most significantly — he is a bright and kind human being, a visionary and, so it seems, just the kind of leader humanity needs. And Jack Ma is also a great and charismatic speaker. The meeting was off-record, but I have jotted down some notes, which are reproduced here.

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group

1/ Leadership

“When everyone is in trouble, it is the leader’s responsibility to take everyone out of trouble”.

2/ Failures and Mistakes

“I was like a blind man riding on the back of a blind tiger. We made so many mistakes. One day I will write a book titled 1001 Alibaba Mistakes. I want to open a University for entrepreneurs — we will teach people how to fail.”

“I didn’t have a good education. I applied for 30 jobs and was rejected. I decided — if nobody hires me, I’m going to hire myself.”

3/ Jobs & Education

“Having a University Degree shouldn’t guarantee a job.”

“We need EQ (Emotional Quotient), not just IQ (Intelligence Quotient). Alibaba has “frozen” fresh graduate hiring. They lack in EQ, they take everything for granted.”

4/ Culture & Growth

“You have to build a unique culture for the future. Unique culture is created by your mother, father and food.”

“If you win in the future, you get to keep your culture.”

“If you are a start up, don’t hire people from corporations! When you raise money, problems come. Don’t hire people from corporations. They don’t know how to work in a start up. We raised 3 million and hired a marketer from a corporation. He came up with a marketing budget for 5 million — he just didn’t know how to work with smaller budgets.”

“Spend time on your people — they stay because they have the same values.”

5/ Vision

“I want Alibaba to last 102 years. You have to make this number (precise and) accurate (like 1999-2101), otherwise it is too abstract.”

“You have to think long term. Without a long-term vision, you are attracted to everything.”

“It’s like a marathon — you can drink, but you have to keep running.”

6/ Opportunities, Healthcare & Entertainment

“Every opportunity starts off as a small opportunity. I’m interested in health and happiness problems.”

“The more hospitals mean the more (health-related) problems. How do we reduce (the need for) the number of hospitals and (the need for more) medications being produced?”

“More importantly, how do we prevent a disease from happening?”

“The best way to communicate with people are: Movies, TV, Games and Sports…”

“I used to think that games were popular in countries where time was not valuable— I changed my mind. Games help retired people to feel less lonely. Online gaming has improved so much. Gaming is a way of education and communication. It’s the language of youth.”

7/ The Future

“Today is difficult, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine. Problem is: Most people die tomorrow morning.”

This article was published in the Jan-Mar 2016 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!