Jack Ma: Shining Icon of Start-up World

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondent
Sep 19, 2019 01:50 PM IST

He co-founded the Chinese e-commerce, retail and Internet giant Alibaba, now among the world’s most valuable technology firms. With a net worth of $35.6 bn, he is among the world’s most powerful people.

Born in Hangzhou city in China’s Zhejiang province on September 10, 1964, Ma’s parents were involved in storytelling through music.

Co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, Jack Ma stepped down as group’s executive chairman on September 10,2019.(Illustration: Unnikrishnan)
Co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, Jack Ma stepped down as group’s executive chairman on September 10,2019.(Illustration: Unnikrishnan)

As a young boy, he was interested in learning English language and worked as a guide for foreign tourists so that he could spend more time with native English speakers. At school, Ma headed the student council. He enrolled at the Hangzhou Teacher’s Training College in 1984 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in literature.

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From 1988 to 1993, Ma taught English at the Hangzhou Institute of Electronics and Engineering (now Hangzhou Dianzi University). In 1994, he founded his first company, the Haibo Translation Agency, which provided translation and interpretation services.

In 1995, during a trip to the United States he saw a great business opportunity in the lack of Chinese web sites. He then founded China Pages, which created websites for Chinese businesses and was one of China’s first Internet companies. From 1998 to 1999, he headed a government-backed Internet company in Beijing but felt that if he remained with the government, he would miss out on the economic opportunities that the internet was bringing.

In 1999, Ma, along with friends, founded the holding company Alibaba Group with nine major subsidiaries: Alibaba.com, Taobao Marketplace, Tmall, eTao, Alibaba Cloud Computing, Juhuasuan, 1688.com, AliExpress.com, and Alipay. The group soon expanded to 240 countries.

In 2005, Alibaba attracted attention from the American Internet portal Yahoo!, which bought a 40% stake. In 2007, the website raised $1.7 billion in its initial public offering (IPO) in Hong Kong. In 2014, the Alibaba Group debuted an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange that raised $25 billion, the largest IPO in US financial history.

Personal life

Ma married Zhang Ying whom he had met while studying at the Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute. Zhang played a vital role in initiating the first business venture. The couple has a son and a daughter. On September 10, 2019 Jack Ma stepped down as Alibaba’s executive chairman. He was succeeded by Daniel Zhang, who had held the CEO’s post.


Having stepped down from the top post, he will now focus on philanthropy through the Jack Ma Foundation, which focuses on improving education, the environment and public health.

In 2008, Alibaba donated $808,000 to victims of the Sichuan earthquake. The company funded the rebuilding of 1,000 houses in Nepal damaged by a major earthquake and raised money for another 9,000 in 2015. In 2019, the foundation launched a fund with $14.6 mn to spread education in Tibet.

Awards & achievements

In 2005 and 2007, Ma was named the Businessperson of the Year by the Business Week magazine. He featured in Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people (2009) and ranked 30th on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s most powerful people (2014). Forbes Asia named him among Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy (2010). He ranked second in Fortune’s 2017 World’s 50 Greatest Leaders list.

Interesting facts

1. When he was young, Jack Ma, whose original name is Ma Yun, often rode over 100 km on his bicycle accompanying tourists who visited his area. He did this for over nine years, prompted by the desire to practice and improve his command over English. One of the foreign tourists with whom Ma spent time nicknamed him ‘Jack’ because he found it hard to pronounce the latter’s Chinese name.

2. Ma failed twice to clear the entrance examination for the Hangzhou Teacher’s College and was admitted on the third try. He applied to the Harvard Business School 10 times but was rejected.

3. In 2007, people from across the world protested that Alibaba, had raised profits by the sale of animal products on the portal. Respecting their interest, Ma decided not to sell shark-flesh products.

4. Ma made his acting debut in the kung fu short film Gong Shou Dao. In the same year, to celebrate the 18th year of Alibaba’s establishment, he gave a performance inspired by Michael Jackson.

Sources: wikipedia, Forbes.com, britannica.com, thefamouspeople.com

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