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Jack Ma is a Chinese philanthropist, entrepreneur, and investor. He rose to global prominence due to his success with Alibaba, a giant e-commerce website that has replicated Amazon’s success (read Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Bio).
His humble beginnings and extraordinary resilience in the face of rejections have seen him give numerous motivational speeches.
Until his exit as the Chairman of Alibaba, Jack Ma made numerous public appearances. Most of these appearances had him give speeches mostly revolving around his inspiring story and how he leveraged the internet space to mint billions.
Jack Ma’s Bio Facts
Full Name: Ma Yun
Birth Date: September 10, 1964
Birth Place: Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
Nick Name: Jack Ma
Siblings: Has an older brother and younger sister
Children: Has three children; Son (Ma Yuankun), Daughter (Ma Yuanbao), and the last is unknown.
Partner /Spouse: Married Zhang Ying in 1988.
Profession: Internet Entrepreneur, Businessman, Investor
Net Worth: $44.2 billion, Forbes
Companies Associated With Alibaba, Alipay, Sun Art Retail Group Limited, Intime Department Store, Lazada Group, South China Morning Post, Alibaba Pictures Group, Youku Tudou Inc
Jack Ma’s Key Facts Summary
- He applied to join Harvard 10 times with no success.
- Jack worked as a teacher earning $15 a month.
- He was rejected by over 30 employers, including KFC and the police.
- He was honored as one of the “Top 10 Economic Personalities of the Year” by China Central Television in 2004.
- Fortune also selected him as one of the “25 Most Powerful Businesspeople in Asia” in 2005
- Time magazine listed Ma as one of the World’s 100 most powerful people
- BusinessWeek chose him as one of China’s Most Powerful People
- Sold Alipay to himself below market value.
- Fortune ranked Ma second on its World’s 50 Greatest Leaders list of 2017
- Jack got an honorary degree of Doctor of Social Sciences from the University of Hong Kong in 2018
Jack Ma’s Birthplace and Early Life
Jack Ma was born to Ma Laifa and Cui Wencai as Ma Yun in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China, on September 10, 1964. This is located in the southern part of China.
His desire to learn English saw him travel 17 miles on a bicycle to Hangzhou International Hotel, a place frequented by English-speaking foreigners. This was soon after President Nixon’s visit in 1997. In these tourist attraction sites, he had a rare chance of refining his English as he conversed with them, acting as a tour guide.
During one such guide, he came across a tourist that had difficulties pronouncing his Chinese name. To keep the conversations flowing, the tourist nicknamed him Jack (read the Bio of his namesake, Jack Dorsey). Their friendship could later blossom and see them become pen pals. And that is how Ma Yun changed to Jack Ma.
Jack was born at a time when the southern part was increasingly being isolated from the west. His parents struggled to make ends meet for Jack and his two siblings eking a living through music and storytelling.
With no money or connection, his only chance for a better life was through education. Jack, therefore, joined a primary school where he failed twice before finally making it to middle school. Like primary school, he flopped twice in the college entrance exams before finally gaining admission to Hangzhou Teachers Institute.
He later graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English in 1988. Soon after graduation, he had a stint as a lecturer, paid $15 per month, at Hangzhou Institute of Electronics and Engineering between 1988 and 1993, where he taught English.
However, before joining the institute, he applied to join Harvard 10 times. Each of those applications got rejected. He tried to join the police, “with a short stature”- as he fondly says, got turned down with a simple explanation, not good enough.
When KFC expanded into China, he and 23 others applied as waiters. And yes, you guessed right, all of them, except him, got placement as waiters. Years later, he jokingly notes that his looks are partially to blame for the many job rejections.
Jack Ma’s Early Business Success
Haibo Translation agency
Armed with his Bachelor of Arts Degree in English, Ma started his first company in 1994, Haibo Translation agency. The company specialized in interpretation and translation.
In 1995, he traveled to the US on behalf of the Municipal government to Seattle. It was in the US that he first interacted with the internet. In his moment of excitement, he googled beer and was amazed at the many brands that popped up.
What baffled him though was that not even one Chinese brand was available. Worse still, there was not even a single line about China.
Seeing an opportunity in this, with the help of a friend, they put up an “ugly” website that had a page about China. The website went live at 9:40 AM, and by 12:30 PM, he had received dozens of emails from interested Chinese investors. And this is how China Pages was born.
In April 1995, Jack and Hi Yibing (a computer teacher) opened the doors of their company, China Pages. The company started with $20,000 raised by Ma, his wife, and other friends.
The company focused on creating websites for small and medium businesses in China.
The company registered its domain, chinapages.com, in the US on May 10, 1995. Within three years, the company had grown in value to be worth $800,000 at the time.
But as fate would have it, the dot.com bubble soon came knocking. In the face of the hard economic times and drying income streams from his customers, he had to close shop in 1998.
Luckily for him, he became absorbed into a government technology company domiciled in the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation. He headed the company from 1988 to 1999 when he called it quits to return to Hangzhou to launch Alibaba.
Before quitting, Jack gathered 17 of his friends and convinced them to pool resources for a virtual marketplace idea. The virtual market was modeled to be a B2B and B2C. And that virtual market is what we currently know as Alibaba.
With his friends, Jack was able to raise $60,000 to have Alibaba up and running. As the company gained traction, got more visitors, and recorded more sales, it caught the attention of tech investors.
One such tech company is SoftBank, a giant Japanese telecom venture company that invested $20 million into Alibaba in October 1999 (see how his story differs from Mike Speiser’s). Another company Goldman Sachs also invested $5 million in Alibaba within the same year.
To generate income in its infancy stages, sellers paid Alibaba a fee to be certified as trustworthy sellers within China. Companies that wanted to sell outside of China had to pay an even huge fee as compared to those that sold within the borders of China.
To boost consumers’ confidence, Alibaba launched Alipay, the equivalent of PayPal (skip to how Paypal intertwines with Elon Musk’s success story), to mediate transactions between consumers and sellers. Alipay was one of many ventures launched by Alibaba.
The rapid growth of Alibaba soon caught the attention of American tech company Yahoo that bought a 40% stake in Alibaba. To build better infrastructure and serve its customers better, Alibaba held its first IPO in Hong Kong in 2007. From the IPO, Alibaba was able to raise $1.7 billion.
Following the success of its first-ever IPO, the Alibaba group launched yet another round of IPO in 2014. But this time round in the New York Stock Exchange. To date, the IPO ranks as the largest IPO of a tech company of its time, having raised $25 billion and raising the company’s market value to $231 billion.
As of writing this, the company has greatly transformed and focuses on B2B, B2C, and C2C services through web portals, offers shopping search engines, cloud computing, and owns an electronic payment service.
Forbes global 2000 of 2020 ranks it 31 among the World’s largest public companies. It currently holds the second slot as one of two companies to shutter the $500 billion bar in Asia. It has a total value of $258 billion worth of assets and employs over 251,462 people.
Taobao was founded in May 2003 as a consumer-to-consumer provider for Chinese-speaking regions. The launch of Taobao was to counter eBay’s move to expand into China by acquiring Eachnet, a giant auction company in China at $180 million.
The marketplace allowed entrepreneurs to open virtual online stores to post products for sale at fixed prices or through auctions. Unlike Eachnet, which had its sellers pay before selling, Taobao allowed sellers to sell for free.
To generate income, Taobao leveraged the high traffic coming to the site to sell ads. Sellers had to give a brief background of who they are and what they sold. Buyers, on the other hand, could leave comments and reviews of their experience with the sellers.
Buyers could opt for express delivery service from the site but had to pay through online accounts. To make Taobao even more competitive, the developers introduced an instant messaging app to facilitate communication between consumers and buyers.
It also introduced Alipay, an escrow-based payment tool to protect both buyers and sellers.
Within two years after its launch, Taobao’s market share shot from a measly 8% in 2003 to a commendable 59% in 2005. On the other hand, eBay’s market share had shrunk from 79% to 36% within the same time. By 2006, eBay had no option but to close shop in China.
The marketplace is currently valued at $35.46 billion and records over a billion listings annually.
Tmall, initially known as Taobao Mall, is a Chinese business-to-consumer online retail operated by Alibaba. It was spun off from its mother company, Taobao marketplace, in November 2010.
The company was founded in 2008 under Taobao to provide a platform for authorized distributors or brand owners to sell their brands to consumers. By 2018, the company was recording over 500 million unique visitors per month.
Over time, the company has availed more features, including options to develop brands through the website.
Alipay is run by Ant Group, a company whose controlling share is owned by Jack Ma. The company was initially created to serve Alibaba but was later sold to Ant Group in 2011.
Information could later be released claiming that both Softbank and Yahoo were not privy to the sale agreement between Ant Group and Alipay.
To appease the warring parties, Ant Group agreed to a minimum compensation of $2 billion and a maximum of $6 billion if Alipay ever went public. In addition to this, Alipay was to continue serving Alibaba.
Youku Tudou Inc
Youku Tudou is a Multi-screen Entertainment and Media company founded in 2003. The company sold to Alibaba in 2014 for $1.1 for a 16.5 % stake. Alibaba could later acquire the remaining stake for $4.4 billion in 2016, garnering the controlling shareholder position.
The minority shares are still held by Yunfeng Fund that has held on to its 2% shareholding worth $132 million. The acquisition of Youku Tudou was perceived as a move to displace Netflix as a go-to Entertainment Company in China.
Like Netflix, the company allows users to subscribe, stream and share multiple high-quality videos across multiple devices.
Alibaba Pictures Group
The company, formerly known as ChinaVision Media, sold to Alibaba for $804 million, giving Alibaba a controlling stake.
This was, however, short-lived as the share capital was diluted, relegating Alibaba to the minority shareholder again. In 2019 however, Alibaba coughed more capital to acquire more shares. This increased their shareholding to 51%, firmly confirming them as a majority shareholder once again.
The acquisition positioned Alibaba as a powerhouse in content production, promotion, and distribution.
South China Morning Post
The company was founded in 1903 in Hong Kong as an English-Language Newspaper (see how far behind Neil Shen is) The company was acquired by Alibaba in 2016 for $266 million. The acquisition was inclusive of all business and services and products offered by the company.
The deal was sealed in 2016 where Alibaba paid $1billion for 54% for the Singapore-based e-commerce platform. With the acquisition, Alibaba was able to expand its reach to more Southeast Asian countries with an approximate user base of 200 million users.
Intime Department Store
Initially, Alibaba paid $692 million in 2014 for the brick-and-mortar company that began in 2004.
After this initial investment, it steadily bought more stock before finalizing the deal in 2017 with a payment of $2.6 billion, effectively making Alibaba a majority shareholder. A year later, Alibaba bought more stock to increase its shareholdings to 99%.
Sun Art Retail Group Limited
The company was started in 2000 and progressively grew to be a giant hypermarket operator in China by 2011. The company diversified its portfolio by establishing e-commerce websites. Alibaba first invested $2.6 billion before finalizing the acquisition with another $3.6 billion to control the company’s controlling share (skip to Mark Cuban’s bio).
Jack Ma’s Business Failures
Jack Ma lost 2 of the companies that he started between 1994 and 1998. He also got rejected 10-times by Harvard. When KFC was expanding into China, all applicants got a job but him. He also applied to numerous other jobs, all of which turned him down.
Jack Ma’s YouTube Videos
In this 44 minute interview, Jack Ma talks about his life as an entrepreneur. In the interview, he talks of how, as a 9-year old, had to cycle for miles to give guides in exchange for lessons from tourists. He also talks of the many rejections he got, including 10-rejections from Harvard.
He also candidly talks of how built Alibaba from nothing to the 31st World’s largest corporation. Throughout the interview, he talks of how resilient he was, taking rejection as a chance to better what he had to offer.
In this interview broadcasted by South China Morning Post, Jack delves into pieces he feels the youth should heed to better their lives. He fondly recalls what he had to overcome to be in his current position.
He recounts how the late Steve Jobs (read Steve Job’s bio) and Microsoft’s Bill Gates (read Bill Gates bio) had to take odd jobs before making it big. He advises them to be the first and not the best, to try and overcome, persevere, and be resilient in the face of life’s most challenging hurdles.
Jack Ma’s Family
Jack Ma is married to Zhang Ying, whom he met while studying at Hangzhou Normal University. The two married in 1988 and have 3-children together.
Their firstborn son is named Ma Yuankun, while their second born is a girl and is named Ma Yuanbao. The identity of their third child remains a mystery.
Jack Ma’s Net Worth and Career Earnings
According to Forbes, Jack Ma is worth $44.2 billion, most of which is tied to stakes across different investment portfolios. Jack, similar to Bezos, stepped down as Alibaba’s Executive Chairman in September 2019.
There are no records of how much he got for a salary when he served as Chairman of Alibaba.
Jack Ma’s Real Estate Holdings
Property in New York Adirondacks
The 28,100 acres of prime land, commonly referred to as Brandon Park, is located in New York’s upstate region. The property has lakes, ponds, forests and rivers, and two homes, serving as Jack Ma’s personal retreats.
Sources privy to the sale agreement, made in 2014, say that the property cost the billionaire $23 million and is purposed for conservation. The property boasts of woodlands, trout streams, and maple syrup.
Château in Bordeaux, France.
Jack purchased the 85-hectare property for an undisclosed sum of money. The property includes an 18th Century castle and a vineyard that produces 500,000 bottles of wine a year.
Chateau Guerry and the Chateau Perenne
Soon after he closed the deal for the 85-hectare property, Jack moved on two acquire two smaller properties within France’s wine-producing region.
The two properties cost him $13.56 million and have a total combined acreage of 84 hectares. The smaller property, Chateau Guerry, produces 84,000 bottles of red wine annually.
On the other hand, the larger property, Chateau Perenne, produces 500,000 bottles of red and white wine annually.
Jack Ma’s Quotes
“I know nothing about technology, I know nothing about marketing, I know nothing about (the legal) stuff. I only know about people.”
“You should learn from your competitor but never copy. Copy, and you die.”
“As entrepreneurs, if you’re not optimistic, you’re in trouble. So the people I choose, they have to be optimistic.”
“We are never short of money. We lack people with dreams who can die for those dreams.
“Players should never fight. A real businessman or entrepreneur has no enemies. Once he understands this, the sky’s the limit.”
“Once in your life, try something. Work hard at something. Try to change. Nothing bad can happen.”
“Philanthropy is not about helping others, and it’s about helping yourself. When you change, the world changes.”
“If you don’t give up, you still have a chance.”
“Today is difficult, tomorrow is much more difficult, but the day after tomorrow is beautiful. Most people die tomorrow evening.”
“Try to find the right people, not the best people.”
“Of course, you’re not happy when people say ‘no.’ Have a good sleep, wake up, and try again.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How did Jack Ma get rich?
Answer: Most of Jack Ma’s wealth has been derived from Alibaba and its subsidiaries. In Alibaba, Jack Ma owned over an 11.7% stake. However, he has been liquidating most of the stake and reinvesting the proceeds in other ventures.
Question: Why is Jack Ma famous?
Answer: His fame has grown over time, mostly because of the inspiring story that defied many odds to see him rise to the status of a billionaire. He is also involved in numerous philanthropy works and conservation efforts across the World.
Question: Does Jack Ma know how to code?
Answer: Jack Ma does not know any coding and entirely relies on the experts he hires to do all the technical work. He claims to have never written a single line of code in his many years within the internet space.