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Stanford Graduate School of Business


Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, shared the story of his entrepreneurial journey at an event co-hosted by Alibaba Group and the Stanford Program on Regions of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SPRIE) of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University on May 4 2013.
Photo credit: Rod Searcey



May 6, 2013 - News

Jack Ma: Ideas and Technology Can Change the World

By Greater China Business Club, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group,made his last public speech before stepping down as CEO at an event co-hosted by Alibaba Group and the Stanford Program on Regions of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SPRIE) of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University on May 4. Dr. Jian Wang, the company’s chief technology officer, was also a featured speaker at the event, which was put on in partnership with the Greater China Business Club of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“No Silicon Valley, No Alibaba”

Ma began his talk by acknowledging how his Silicon Valley days encouraged him to pursue a career as an internet entrepreneur: “The street lights in Silicon Valley and the late night conversations in restaurants energized me.” Inspired by the tech boom, Ma returned to his hometown of Hangzhou to follow his dream in the mid-1990s.

At first Ma faced lots of skepticism, as people did not believe that e-commerce would be successful in China where a credit system had not been developed so consumers didn’t have access to the credit cards that made conducting transactions online so easy in the U.S. Despite the initial setbacks, Ma built Alibaba into one of the largest internet companies in China.

“No Money, No Technology, and No Plan”

These are the three reasons that Ma offered for Alibaba’s success. When he first arrived in Hangzhou, Ma was an English teacher with limited wealth and resources, but he had a vision of creating a company that would “make it easy to do business anywhere in the world.” He and his cash-strapped team thought carefully about the most innovative and cost-effective ways to build the business of their dreams.

Ma noted that he never wrote a single line of code at Alibaba. He believes that it is because of his non-technical background that he was able to understand the usability and functionality of Alibaba's products from the customer’s perspective. Ma believes that to lead a technology company, one doesn't necessarily have to have technology skills, but one must respect them.

Ma stated that “he doesn’t make plans,” explaining Alibaba's constant readiness to adapt to technological advances. Since Alibaba’s inception, Ma always encouraged his employees to embrace change. Ma advised business students not to stick to their business plans, as the world is fast changing and effective global leaders must know how to manage the fast turnover of technology and the turn of events.

China in the Next 30 Years

China will experience tremendous changes in the next 30 years. The Chinese economy will transition from the selling to the world to selling to a major domestic consumer market. Technology will play an even more important role as it continues to touch almost every aspect of people’s lives. Additionally, mobile will potentially become a bigger market than PCs in China. The next wave of mobile penetration will come from the second and third-tier cities that have relatively low computer penetration rates.

“But change creates opportunities for ordinary people like you and me,” noted Ma. The significant changes in China will offer young people opportunities to shine as technology has leveled the playing field.

Once in your life, try something. Work hard at something. Try to change. Nothing bad can happen.
    -- Jack Ma, Founder & Executive Chairman, Alibaba Group
It is against this transformative context that Alibaba will continue to stay true to its original mission— making doing businesses easy anywhere in the world, Ma stated. For example, Alibaba’s SME-loans business aims to finance private enterprises that historically faced difficulties raising capital. Alibaba cloud computing service (AliCloud) is another example of the company’s products that will influence China’s digitization, according to CTO Jian Wang. AliCloud has already made contributions to the broadcasts of 2012 London Olympics and the official digital catalogue of drugs in China, Wang noted.

“In the industrial age, winning was determined by size and depth; in the information and technology era, it is ruled by innovation and individualism,” Ma argued.

As Ma concluded his talk, he shared his final insights with the assembled Stanford students and Silicon Valley professionals: “Once in your life, try something. Work hard at something. Try to change. Nothing bad can happen.”