He’s starred in his own martial arts movie, recorded a song with one of China’s biggest pop stars and performed onstage dressed as Michael Jackson, thrusting his hips to the tune of ‘Billie Jean’. Jack Ma may not sound like the conventional business tycoon, but it’s the same eccentricity that has helped create one of the biggest and most disruptive tech juggernauts in the world.
Today, the 53-year-old is one of Asia’s richest men, known for a stunning rags-to-riches story that epitomises the rise of China, globalisation and entrepreneurship.
Ma, a philanthropist with a penchant for performance, has amassed a personal fortune valued at nearly US$41 billion; his ecommerce platform Alibaba boasts a market capitalisation of around US$487 billion.
Founded in 1999 in an apartment in the southern Chinese city of Hangzhou, Alibaba’s mission is to “make it easy to do business anywhere”. The company runs China’s premier online shopping portals Taobao and Tmall, websites that deal in everything from hairdryers to dairy products.
The fledgling company survived the dotcom boom and bust, emerging with a record-breaking public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014. Today, Alibaba connects roughly 10 million merchants with 480 million customers annually, and employs over 50,000 staff members worldwide.
The company’s revenue has skyrocketed in recent years, achieving a growth of 2,272% between 2010 and 2017. But Ma is far from finished. “Compared to 15 years ago, we’re big. But compared to what we’ll be 15 years from now, we’re still a baby,” he said during an interview at Davos in 2015.
Baby or not, he’s already built an ecosystem; the company’s teams straddle the earth having bought stakes in everything from online banks and movie studios to healthcare providers and food deliverers.
Jack Ma's rags to riches story
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The billionaire businessman who was born poor has vowed to give much of his wealth away – at the end of last year, Alibaba pledged US$1.5 billion to China’s ambitious poverty alleviation campaign.
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