Alibaba founder Jack Ma walks the talk

By Edward Lim

It’s hard to let go when you’re one of the richest man in the world and leading one, if not the biggest, e-commerce company in the world. But, Jack Ma is a man of his word. A man who knows his time and a man who has shown what resilience is all about.

He announced his retirement just before his 54th birthday and yesterday (on his birthday), named his successor, current Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang.

Ma is certainly a man of his word. He’s walking his talk on what he told a group of young global leaders in January.

“When you are 50 to 60 years old, spend time training and developing young people, the next generation,” he said.

Ma’s rags-to-riches is one of resilience and self-believe. To improve his English in his younger days, he would talk to tourists. Later, he would graduate in English language and become a teacher.

A trip to the US got him thinking of the possibilities of e-commerce in China. Despite many failed attempts, he started Alibaba and in a David vs Goliath story, battered eBay in his own country.

Alibaba has grown to be a US$400b e-commerce giant that has reached out all over the earth.

Following his retirement announcement, Ma will hand over the reins as chairman of the Alibaba Group on September 10, 2019. He will continue as executive chairman to ensure a smooth transition to Zhang. He will also complete his current term as a board member until the group’s annual general meeting in 2020.

In a letter to Alibaba’s customers, employees and shareholders, Ma pointed out that he had been thinking about and preparing for succession planning for a decade.

“When Alibaba was founded in 1999, our goal was to build a company that could make China and the world proud and one that could cross three centuries to last 102 years. However, we all knew that no one could stay with the company for 102 years. A sustainable Alibaba would have to be built on sound governance, culture-centric philosophy, and consistency in developing talent. No company can rely solely on its founders. Of all people, I should know that. Because of physical limits on one’s ability and energy, no one can shoulder the responsibilities of chairman and CEO forever,” he said.

“We believed the only way to solve the problem of corporate leadership succession was to develop a system of governance based on a unique culture and mechanisms for developing consistent talent and successors. For the last 10 years, we kept working on these ingredients,” he added.

Ma is a firm believer in teamwork and credits the team for taking Alibaba to where it is today.

“Alibaba is amazing not because of our business or scale or accomplishments. The best thing about Alibaba is that we come together under a common mission and vision. Our partnership system, unique culture and talented team have laid a strong foundation for the legacy of our company,” he said.

His next move is to devote his time to the Jack Ma Foundation which he founded in 2014 and focus on ways to improve rural China’s educational system.


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