JACK MA: HIS LIFE, CAREER AND PERSONALITY

JACK MA


Alibaba.com was founded by Jack Ma, an English teacher turned entrepreneur who is now one of China’s most well-known businessmen. Time selected Ma as one of 100 most influential people in the world in 2009. Adi Ignatius, chief editor of the Harvard Business Review, wrote in short profile, “Meeting Jack Ma, you might be forgiven for thinking he’s still an English teacher. The Internet entrepreneur is soft-spoken and elflike — and he speaks really good English...Ma, runs one of the world’s biggest business to business online marketplaces, an eBay for companies doing international trade.”

Adam Lashinsk wrote in Fortune: “Jack Ma is one of China’s richest men, with a fortune valued at nearly $30 billion. As executive chairman of Alibaba Group, he leads the dominant force in Chinese e-commerce, a company with a market value of $264 billion and some 450 million customers. A global ambassador for Chinese business, he spent 800 hours aloft last year-visiting princes, Presidents, and Prime Ministers and lots of mere businesspeople too. “A professional pilot cannot travel that much, or so I’m told,” he boasts.[Source: Adam Lashinsky, Fortune, April 1, 2017]

According to the New York Times: “Mr. Ma’s ascent to dot-com billionaire is remarkable for not following the traditional script. Unlike Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Steven P. Jobs or Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Mr. Ma, 49, has no background in computing and professes not to understand technology. Raised during China’s Cultural Revolution, Mr. Ma began his career as an English teacher. [Source: Neil Gough and Alexandra Stevenson, New York Times, May 7, 2014]

“In a country where tycoons are often the children of politicians, Mr Ma stands out,” The Economist reported. “He failed twice to get into college. He learned English from the radio. He stumbled on the internet during a trip to America as an interpreter in the mid-1990s. He typed the phrase “Chinese beer” into a search engine. No results appeared. He saw an opportunity. He started Alibaba in 1999, to help small firms find customers and suppliers without going through costly middlemen. [Source: The Economist, December 29, 2010]

Jack Ma's Early Life and Education

Ma Yun (Jack Ma) was born in September 1964 in Hangzhou, a large city a couple hours from Shanghai. He began studying English at a young age by watching movies and talking to English speakers at Hangzhou International Hotel. For nine years, Ma rode his bicycle 27 kilometers (17 miles) to give tourists tours of the area to practice his English. He became pen pals with one of those foreigners, who gave him the nickname "Jack" because he found it difficult to pronounce his Chinese name. Ma is married to Zhang Ying and has three children. [Source: Wikipedia]

Ma failed the entrance exam for the Hangzhou Teachers College twice and finally got in to University on his third try taking the Chinese entrance exams. His worst subject was math. Ma attended Hangzhou Teacher's Institute (currently known as Hangzhou Normal University) and graduated in 1988 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. While he was there he was was head of the student council. After graduation, he became a lecturer in English and international trade at Hangzhou Dianzi University. Ma said he applied ten times to Harvard Business School and was rejected each time. He was also rejected for a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Ma worked as an English and International Trade lecturer at the Hangzhou Dianzi University while working as a teacher at a night school. His English skills came in handy as he was selected to go to United States as interpreter for a government project where he had his first encounter with the Internet.

Jack Ma’s Wife, Zhang Ying

Jack Ma’s wife is Zhang Ying. Also known as Cathy Zhang, she was born in 1966. The couple got married after graduating during the 1980s and have three children. They both started out by working as teachers and met each other at the Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute, now Hangzhou Normal University. She has forged her own career, working a general manager at Alibaba for many years. She is a writer and active in several charities

According to the Chinese-government mouthpiece China.org: In 1995, when Ma quit his job as high school English teacher and pursue his interests in Internet business and translation services, Zhang Ying, offered much help and borrowed 10 million yuan for him to found Alibaba, Like every successful man, Ma feels beholden to his wife very much. In order to care for the family, Zhang quit her job and devoted herself to the family. "She helps me a lot with my career and family," said Ma. [Source: China.org]

Zhang once said, "Ma Yun is not a handsome man, but I fell for him because he can do a lot of things handsome men cannot do." Zhang quit her teaching job and initially served as Alibaba’s "political commissar". She said at time she spend most of her day running errands and preparing meals for people that attended Ma’s meetings which took at all hours of the day. It is said that once Zhang asked her husband how much money the company had made to which Ma raised a single finger. She asked: "Ten million yuan (US$1.6 million)?" he said "no". She then asked, "A hundred million (US$16 million)?" to which he said "no" again. When he said "One million (US$160,000)" she looked looked disappointed until he said, "a day".[Source: Ishani Ghose. meaww.com, January 4, 2021

Jack Ma Enters the Internet Business


Jack Ma as a kid

Ma once said, jokingly I assume, he entered the Internet business in 1995 after he was kidnaped in Los Angeles and talked his way out by promising to help his kidnapper start an Internet company. He started one of the first Internet companies in China, a small company — China Yellow Pages — that made some home pages, with the help of some of Ma’s friends in the U.S. At that point the Internet was starting to gain interest in China. The venture got off the ground enough that he opened an an office in Beijing but unfortunately other people had similar businesses and he terminated the project and moved back to Hangzhou.

Adam Lashinsky wrote in Fortune: An academic-like curiosity has been a hallmark of Ma’s success in business. Ma was one of the first of a group of Chinese entrepreneurs to discover the Internet, and he had a Zelig-like ability to show up in the right place at the right time. In 1997, for example, while working for China’s Ministry of Commerce between startup efforts, Ma was assigned to work as a translator for Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang on a visit to Beijing. “He was inquisitive, confident, and clearly eager to learn about the new world of digital and the Internet,” says Yang,. “Ma relishes the role of teacher. “For more than 12 years I called myself chief education officer,” he says during a video interview from his office in Hangzhou. [Source: Adam Lashinsky, Fortune, April 1, 2017]

Neil Gough and Alexandra Stevenson wrote in New York Times: The first time Jack Ma used the Internet, in 1995, he searched for “beer” and “China” but found no results. Intrigued, he created a basic web page for a Chinese translation service with a friend. Within hours, he received a handful of emails from around the world requesting information. “At a time when few Chinese households had their own computers, Mr. Ma in 1995 made the decision to leave teaching to set up an online business. In his hometown, Hangzhou, Mr. Ma established one of the country’s first officially registered Internet companies, a business index site called China Pages.[Source: Neil Gough and Alexandra Stevenson, New York Times, May 7, 2014]

Cui Luhai, who was then running a computer animation business, met with Mr. Ma at the China Pages office to learn more about his plans for the website. “I can still remember the first scene I saw when I walked into his office,” said Mr. Cui, today a lecturer in new media at the China Academy of Art. “It was a pretty empty space with only one desk set up in the middle of the room. There was only one very old PC desktop surrounded by a lot of people,” he said. Mr. Ma, it turned out, had spent much of his money on registering the business and appeared to have little money left for hardware.

“In a memoir-style documentary about Alibaba and Mr. Ma called “Crocodile in the Yangtze,” Porter Erisman, a Mandarin-speaking American who worked at Alibaba from 2000 to 2008, presents footage of one of many visits Mr. Ma paid to officials in Beijing in the mid-1990s. Mr. Ma appears in a button-down blue denim shirt, sitting over a boxy old laptop computer in a smoky government office and explaining his business to a bespectacled official in jacket and tie. “Nowadays, foreigners can use computers from any desktop to find products from around the world,” Mr. Ma explains to the official. “They can order directly from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, but they can’t order anything from China because right now there’s nothing from China on the Internet,” he says. “I hope the various departments will support us.” But Mr. Ma’s pitches were rebuffed. He soon left China Pages in 1997 to work at a unit of China’s Commerce Ministry helping to create websites.

Jack Ma and the Founding and Building of Alibaba

On how his company stayed in its feet in the early years when the going was tough, Ma told the Washington Post: “There three reasons why we survived. We had no money, we had no technology and we had no plan.” Neil Gough and Alexandra Stevenson wrote in New York Times: “In early 1999, Ma struck out on his own again, to start Alibaba. The company’s first site, Alibaba.com, was a business-to-business marketplace that connected Chinese exporters with overseas buyers. Unlike most Chinese websites of the day, it was not a clone of Western companies. In 1999, the company lured Joseph C. Tsai, a Taiwan-born former lawyer who had been educated at Yale and was working in a private equity business in Hong Kong. Together, Mr. Ma and Mr. Tsai brought in Goldman Sachs and SoftBank as investors.

“Early on, Mr. Ma honed his skills as a strategist. He began Taobao, the company’s consumer-to-consumer platform, in 2003, at a time when eBay’s Chinese unit dominated the business. Fighting for market share, Mr. Ma decided to keep Taobao free, although it was hemorrhaging money. “With eBay, he liked looking foolish and stupid,” says Mr. Erisman, the filmmaker. “From a Wall Street investors’ perspective, he was willing to run Alibaba into the ground to defeat eBay — the only thing worse than a smart competitor is a crazy one who is willing to just spend all their money with no hope of making profit.”

“It worked. At a news conference in October 2005, Mr. Ma told reporters that Taobao had gained nearly 70 percent of the market share for online shopping in China. “Pretty soon we’ll be the only one left. EBay’s days are numbered,” he said. In 2006, eBay announced it was effectively leaving the China market and folding its operations into an Internet company controlled by Li Ka-shing, the Hong Kong billionaire. “

Jack Ma as the Leader of Alibaba


Ma at a launch in 2017

As of 2014, Ma owned 8.9 percent of Alibaba. Adam Lashinsky wrote in Fortune: Ma “sees his high profile as an obligation. “Running such a big economy” — his word for the $485 billion worth of economic activity that took place on Alibaba in 2016 — “you have the responsibility to share with people what you think. Our ideas, our policies, our decisions are going to affect the lives of half a billion people.” [Source: Adam Lashinsky, Fortune, April 1, 2017]

Neil Gough and Alexandra Stevenson wrote in New York Times: “His role at Alibaba has always been as the company’s main strategist, a flamboyant motivator in chief to his staff and a relentless opponent to those who have competed against him....At a 2009 stadium rally to celebrate the anniversary of Alibaba, he emerged on stage wearing a waist-length blond wig, a black leather jacket with red flame and metal stud accents, sunglasses and lipstick. Raising a microphone, he ripped into a stilted rendition of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?,” eliciting cheers from the crowd of 16,000 employees. [Source: Neil Gough and Alexandra Stevenson, New York Times, May 7, 2014]

“He remains a hands-on executive chairman and oversees strategy at Alibaba, but in May 2013 he stepped down from his role as chief executive. The next day, he announced that he had been appointed the chairman of the Nature Conservancy’s board of directors for China. He has grown increasingly concerned over rampant pollution of the soil and water in China, something he has partly blamed for his father-in-law’s recent death from cancer.

Mr. Ma “wasn’t the type of person who starts a business keeping 90 percent of the equity for himself and really hoarding all of the wealth and riches,” said one Western executive who has known him for over a decade, declining to be named because of his company’s policy against speaking publicly about business contacts. “In the earliest days, when Alibaba.com was first forming, he was giving equity to all of the high school students who were working with him,” said the executive. “He was bringing everyone along.”

Jack Ma has encouraged his employees to give money to worthy causes. He has donated $5 million of his own money to set up a Grameen-style bank with Grameen founder and Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to provide modest loans to farmers and small businesses in Sichuan and Inner Mongolia. In April 2014 According to to the New York Times: Mr. Ma and Mr. Tsai, a co-founder, announced that they would donate shares representing 2 percent of Alibaba’s stock — a grant worth several billion dollars — to charitable trusts that would finance initiatives in the environment, medicine and education. Such a large donation is seldom seen in China, and the move was cheered by other prominent philanthropists, including Mr. Gates of Microsoft, Warren E. Buffett and Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York.

Jack Ma, China’s Richest Man

In 2015, when he was 50, Jack Ma was listed by Forbes as China’s richest man, with a net worth of $22 Billion. At that time was the world’s 33rd richest person, up from No. 122 in 2014. At that time Forbes reported: Ma captured the world stage like no other Chinese businessman in September 2014 with the record-breaking $25 billion initial public offering of his e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba Group on the New York Stock Exchange. His Ant Financial Services Group, is pushing beyond its Alipay online payment business into financial services, including a consumer money market fund and a private bank. He also has more than a dozen other investments, from a stake in a soccer team to a film production studio. An active philanthropist, he sits on the board of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences with fellow billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Yuri Milner. [Source: Forbes

Ma topped the Forbes List of China’s richest in 2014, with a net worth of $19.5 billion. That year he became the 11th Number One in 16 years of the Hurun Rich List in China, with a fortune of US$25 billion, surpassing Wang Jianlin of Wanda in second place with US$24.2 billion. In 2013, he ranked 8th on the Forbes list with $7.1 billion.

In 2014, Bloomberg reported: “The 49-year-old founder and chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has a net worth of $21.8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His assets include a 7.3 percent economic interest in China’s largest e-commerce business, which is preparing for what could be the largest initial public offering in U.S. history, and almost half of the parent of Alipay, a separate online-payment service that previously hadn’t been included in his net worth calculation. Ma is $5.5 billion richer than Ma Huateng, the founder of Tencent Holdings Ltd., China’s largest Internet company by market value. Robin Li, the founder of search engine Baidu Inc., ranks No. 3 in the world’s second-largest economy. Ma owns 8.8 percent of the company. After subtracting the 1.5 percent controlled by SymAsia Foundation Ltd., his charitable organization, Ma’s interest in the company is valued at $11.3 billion.Ma also owns 48.5 percent of Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial, a closely held entity that operates the Alipay online-payment service. The Hangzhou, China-based company has a value of $25 billion, based on the average estimate of seven analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. [Source: Zijing Wu and Sterling Wong, Bloomberg, August 28, 2014]

Jack Ma was listed by Forbes as China’s fourth richest man in 2021, with a net worth of $48.4 Billion. At that time Forbes reportedly: The Alibaba cofounder has been lying low since the dual listing of his fintech giant, Ant Group, was halted by Chinese regulators. His e-commerce empire is also under pressure; Chinese regulators launched an anti-monopoly investigation into the company. [Source: Forbes]

Jack Ma’s Personality and Meetings with World Leaders


Ma with Trump in 2017

Adam Lashinsk wrote in Fortune: “The rich and powerful people who meet with Ma tend to come away from the experience with a fresh nugget of information, either about him or about the still poorly understood digital conglomerate he started with a bunch of friends 18 years ago in the provincial coastal city of Hangzhou. Jim Kim, a physician who is the president of the World Bank, met Ma four years ago over a dinner lasting more than three hours and was startled to find the billionaire wearing sandals, holding Buddhist prayer beads, and sitting cross-legged on his chair. Kim was so taken with Ma’s passion for facilitating global trade by focusing on small-business people that he’s rethinking his international development organization’s approach. [Source: Adam Lashinsky, Fortune, April 1, 2017]

“Others are moved by Ma’s humanity. Jean Liu, president of Chinese ride-hailing startup Didi Chuxing, has known Ma for years and considers him a mentor. (Alibaba is a Didi shareholder.) She recently learned, through family connections rather than from Ma, about how he repeatedly visited a seamstress he had met after learning she was ill. Says Liu: “He genuinely cares about the people around him.”

“Then there’s the President of the United States, who met Ma for the first time a few weeks before his Inauguration. “Trump didn’t know that much about Alibaba,” reports company president Michael Evans, a former Goldman Sachs banker and Asia hand who helped set up the powwow. “He was fascinated to hear that Chinese consumers are interested in buying from U.S. small businesses. I don’t think that had occurred to him.” Ma used the sit-down to make a bold promise-that Alibaba would help create 1 million jobs in the U.S. over five years. The pronouncement was music to the President-elect’s ears. “It was a great meeting,” he declared before the cameras in the lobby of Trump Tower, a beaming Ma beside him. “Jack and I are going to do some great things.”

“Unpacked, the big promise is classic Ma, a born promoter and natural communicator with a finely tuned ear to the needs of government officials. Duncan Clark, a China-based investment adviser and the author of the comprehensive 2016 book Alibaba, the House That Jack Ma Built, labels the move equal parts “theatrics” and effective. “To me, it broke the tension,” says Clark, at a time of deteriorating U.S.-China relations. “Jack is very good at seducing and working the room.” A few weeks later, he notes, Ant Financial, an Alibaba affiliate controlled by Ma, announced plans to acquire the Texas payments firm Moneygram for $880 million, an offer subsequently topped by the U.S. firm Euronet. Alibaba would have needed the U.S. government’s blessing to prevail in the deal.

Jack Ma’s Boardroom Battles

When he was young Ma said: “I had always wished that I was born in a period of war. I could have been a general. “I thought about what I could have achieved in war.” According to the New York Times: “Mr. Ma has had his share of boardroom battles. In 2011, an initial partnership with Yahoo formed in 2005 was briefly derailed. Mr. Ma transferred one of Alibaba’s most profitable businesses, the online payments unit Alipay, into a separate business under his control without formal approval from Alibaba’s board, where SoftBank and Yahoo had seats. When news of the transfer broke in May 2011, it brought an angry response from outside investors in Alibaba and Yahoo. [Source: Neil Gough and Alexandra Stevenson, New York Times, May 7, 2014]

“Mr. Ma argued that it was necessary to get a government license for Alipay, because Beijing didn’t want foreign investors controlling online payment businesses in China. “If Alipay were illegal or didn’t get the license, Taobao would be paralyzed,” Mr. Ma said at the time. “If Taobao were paralyzed, how could Alibaba reform and develop?” “Alibaba, Yahoo and SoftBank settled their differences over the issue, but not all shareholders were pleased. The hedge fund manager David Einhorn pulled his investment in Yahoo, saying the spat “wasn’t what we signed up for.”

“Mr. Ma displays few regrets for his aggressive approach. In regard to the 2011 episode, he compared his decisions with those made by Deng Xiaoping, China’s paramount leader during the government’s deadly crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters on June 4, 1989, which is widely referred to in China as the “6/4 incident.” “As a company C.E.O., no matter if it’s the Alibaba incident, no matter if it’s splitting off Alipay, at that point, it’s just like Deng Xiaoping during 6/4,” Mr. Ma was quoted as saying in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post in July. “As the country’s highest decision maker, he demanded stability. He needed to make this kind of cruel decision.”

Jack Ma as a Global Business Leader Restrained in China

Ma has gotten involved with numerous international organizations, in the process raising his stature and the exposure of Alibaba. In 2016, Ma was named a special adviser on youth entrepreneurship and small business to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. He's a fixture at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he is just as at ease with Western executives and leaders as he is with Chinese ones.

Adam Lashinsky wrote in Fortune: “To realize his vision — which relies on technology to buy, sell, finance, and deliver goods on Alibaba’s digital platforms around the world — Ma has been busily recasting himself of late as a global leader. Already he is the first Chinese business executive who can claim to have transcended his homeland for the world stage. In his travels, Ma promotes the lowering of trade barriers, touts his own brand of philanthropy, and supports causes such as primary-school education. His version of globalization is carefully calibrated and expansive enough to be consistent with the goals of his own President, Xi Jinping, as well as with Trump’s America-first positioning. [Source: Adam Lashinsky, Fortune, April 1, 2017]

“There is a business imperative behind Ma’s global leadership, given that nothing happens in China without the government’s explicit or implicit permission. “I think Jack understands that as powerful as Alibaba is in China, his best protection is to diversify into a multinational,” says Orville Schell, a China scholar and journalist who is director of the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations in New York City and who has known Ma for more than a decade. Schell, who lives in Berkeley, says that a few years ago Ma came to visit his son, who was attending UC-Berkeley, and aspired to stay for a while. “He got a house and furnished it, and hoped to live half time and audit courses, participating in the life of the mind,” says Schell. “But then the siren song of his business and making it bigger, greater, and more global took over.”

In the 2000s "it would have been unfathomable that the leader of China’s biggest e-commerce company would be perhaps the most prominent corporate voice on world trade — though no more unlikely than that the President of China would give a pro-globalization address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, as Xi Jinping did in January, 2017. Ma was in the audience when Xi spoke, and he met with Xi there. “He made a wonderful speech and a commitment to globalization,” says Ma. “I think globalization is a great start, but it’s just the beginning.” Globalization is “a baby,” he says, “and the baby is having growing pains,” obliquely referring to Trump’s full-throated trade challenges to China. “We should not kill the baby because he cries a lot.”

“Then Ma pivots from government to capitalism, extolling his belief in the power of business to accomplish what politicians cannot. “Maybe the business community has to drive this instead of government,” he says. “I feel sorry for government. When you put 200 country leaders in the same room trying to realize something, it’s impossible. But when you put 200 businesspeople in one room, we might work something out.” And maybe Ma will be leading that conversation.

Jack Ma’s Efforts to Shake Up the Chinese Business World


with Maria Sharapova at an event in Shanghai

Neil Gough and Alexandra Stevenson wrote in New York Times: Ma “effectively represents millions of people who now depend on Alibaba for their livelihood,” said Duncan Clark, who has known Mr. Ma since the late 1990s and is the chairman of BDA China, a consulting firm in Beijing that focuses on the digital and consumer sectors. “That’s a constituency. He’s a politician with a small ‘p."’ [Source: Neil Gough and Alexandra Stevenson, New York Times, May 7, 2014] .

“He has also proved to be a serial disrupter — an outsider with a knack for creating new markets by reimagining old industries like retailing or finance. Alibaba and Mr. Ma are shaking up some of China’s most staid, state-dominated industries, starting ventures in banking and finance and mobile phone communications. He is even moving into the department store business and film production. “Innovation in many industries has been triggered by outsiders,” Mr. Ma wrote in June 2013 in an opinion article in The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party — an unusual move for a private sector entrepreneur.

“He was putting the country’s state banks on notice. Publication of the article coincided with the start of Yu’e Bao, a high-interest money market product that Alibaba initiated to attract investment from its customers’ online payment accounts. As of February, 81 million people had signed up for the product, which had $40 billion in assets under management. “The finance industry needs a disrupter, it needs an outsider to come in and carry out a transformation,” Mr. Ma wrote in the article.

Jack Ma Reduces His Role at Alibaba

In 2013 he stepped down as CEO of Alibaba. Adam Lashinsky wrote in Fortune: Yet no one doubts that Ma’s is the singular voice that matters on all important decisions regarding Alibaba and its many affiliates, a group Ma himself acknowledges is complex. In fact, he likens Alibaba to the environment, in which he has taken a keen interest as a board member of the Nature Conservancy. For Ma, the environment and his company are two sides of the same complicated coin. Just as the different components of nature need to work together in an ecosystem, says Ma, “Alibaba needs to work with society, government, and all kinds of organizations.” He would simplify his business if he could, he says. “But I cannot.” [Source: Adam Lashinsky, Fortune, April 1, 2017]

Around the same time Ma said he wanted to retire. "He says he first began preparing for that day when he was 45. And he doesn’t want to be one of those old men who attend board meetings long after they’ve lost their mojo. “They should give the young people a chance,” he says. He demurs on revealing exactly when he plans to bow out, though he has ideas about what activities will occupy his time. One is teaching. The other is relaxing. “I have my own timetable,” he says. “I don’t want to die in my office. I want to die on the beach.” Few take this talk seriously, however. Multiple observers close to Alibaba point out that no major decisions happen without him and that he continues to shape strategy for Alibaba. He owns just under 8 percent of the company, not a controlling stake, yet everyone understands that people work for Jack-much the way Steve Jobs ruled Apple with an even smaller share of the company.

In September 2019, Ma stepped down as the chairman of Alibaba. He was succeeded by Daniel Zhang, a former accountant and 12-year veteran of Alibaba who previously was president of its consumer-focused Tmall.com business unit. AFP reported: “Ma plans to put his vast fortune — among China's biggest at $41 billion — into initiatives serving his first love, education, following the footsteps of a fellow tech innovator he admires: Bill Gates. The departure of charismatic founders from big tech companies typically causes hand-wringing and wobbling share prices, but not at Alibaba. The company's operational reins have for a couple of years now been in the hands of a respected team of executives who have kept it on e-commerce's cutting-edge.[Source: Joe McDonald, Associated Press, September 10, 2019; Kelly Wang, Dan Martin, AFP, September 8, 2019]

Jack Ma Disappearance

In November 2020, on the eve of another commercial success for Alibaba, an IPO for Alipay and the Ant Group, expected to bring billions of dollars, in Jack Ma suddenly went missing and was not seen or heard from for three months. There were rumours that he might have been placed under house arrest or otherwise detained. He eventually reappeared but has kept a low profile ever since while the Chinese government has made moves against Alibaba such as demanding that the business divest its media assets.. [Source: Sam Peach — BBC Radio Documentaries Unit, March 20, 2021]

The BBC reported: “The Alibaba founder had accused Chinese banks of operating with a "pawn-shop mentality". He had also claimed that the authorities were trying to "use the way to manage a railway station to manage an airport" when it came to regulating the new world of digital finance. These statements angered the banking establishment and reportedly reached the attention of President Xi Jinping. Some reports suggest President Xi personally intervened to block Alipay's share sale Soon Ma and his close colleagues were summoned for a meeting with the regulators, and Ant Group's flotation was halted in its tracks. Shares in Ma's companies fell, wiping nearly $76 billion off its value.

“After that meeting, Jack Ma was nowhere to be seen. "That day he apparently crossed the invisible red line for what can be said and done in Xi Jinping's China," says Christina Boutrup, a China analyst who has interviewed Ma in the past. “I believe it was a big surprise for him. He would never have crossed that line if he had known how bad it could go." Eventually, on 20 January 2021, Ma resurfaced in the form of a short video address for a charity event. He was subsequently spotted the following month playing golf on the Chinese tropical island of Hainan. “Apparently he just kept a very low profile, which was really the best thing he could do," says Ms Boutrup.

Image Sources: Wikicommons except Ma as Kid (Eyeyrs), Ma Trump (BBC) and Ma and Sharapova (Tennis World)

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2022


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