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20 Crazy Things We’ve Learned About Alibaba Billionaire Jack Ma

From getting kidnapped to dressing up as Michael Jackson, the Alibaba founder has a lot of wacky stories to tell.

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As someone who rose from being rejected from Harvard 10 times to becoming the second-richest man in China, Jack Ma’s rags to riches story is inspiring

Jack Ma

Through persistence and experimentation, Ma built one of the most successful, record-breaking companies to date, the ecommerce giant Alibaba.

Of course, his success didn’t happen overnight, and his story is full of lessons in failure. Growing up, Ma struggled in school, constantly failing tests. When he finally got accepted to college, after he failed the college entrance exam twice and was rejected from Harvard 10 times, Ma eventually became an English teacher. However, once he was introduced to the internet during a work assignment in 1995, the rest was history.

Motivated to help the internet catch on in China, Ma launched Alibaba, an ecommerce site for small- to medium-sized businesses, in 1999. From there, it took years to build the site into the massive online wholesaler it is today, powered by Ma’s motivation and passion. Today, Ma is worth a whopping $39 billion, and since he stepped down as Alibaba’s CEO in 2013, he’s devoted much of his time and money to social causes.

There’s much to learn about the Chinese billionaire. Here are 20 interesting facts about Ma you probably didn’t know.

He wasn’t a great student

jack-ma-student

One might assume Ma was a straight-A student

While one might assume Ma was a straight-A student, quite the opposite was true. Ma admits that he actually failed multiple times in school: “I failed a key primary school test two times, I failed the middle school test three times, I failed the college entrance exam two times.”

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

He began learning English when he was 12

jack-ma-speaking-english

He would volunteer as a tourist guide for visitors just to practice the language

At 12 years old, Ma was committed to learning English. Every morning for eight years, he would ride his bike 40 minutes to a hotel in Hangzhou, where he would volunteer as a tourist guide for visitors just to practice the language.

He was rejected from Harvard University 10 times

Harvard University

Harvard University

It usually takes only one rejection for someone to give up on getting into an Ivy League, but this wasn’t the case for Ma. During an interview at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in 2015, Ma admitted to being rejected from Harvard 10 times.

He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life after college

jack-ma-rejection

You don’t always have to have the answers

After graduating from Hangzhou Normal University, Ma applied for 30 different jobs, and he got rejected from each one. During the process of applying for these jobs, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, so he submitted his resume for a variety of unique positions, one even being a police officer.

Related: AutoTrader South Africa’s George Mienie Knows Disruptive Innovation Is More Than Shifting Gears

He was rejected from KFC

KFC

KFC hired 23 – and the one person who didn’t get a job was Ma

One of the 30 jobs Ma applied for after he graduated from college was a position at the fast food chain KFC. Out of a pool of 24 applicants, KFC hired 23 – and the one person who didn’t get a job was Ma.

He loves “Forrest Gump”

Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump

Jack Ma’s fictional idol is Forrest Gump. Like Gump, Ma also struggled in school, then went on to achieve success. “I’ve been watching that movie about 10 times. Every time when I’m frustrated I watch the movie,” he shared with CNBC in an interview. “I watched the movie before I came to New York.”

He became a teacher and made $12 to $15 a month

jack-ma-as-a-teacher

The chosen one

After graduating from Hangzhou Teachers University, Ma’s luck – and career – turned around. Ma was the only student of 500 to be chosen to teach at a university. Teaching English, Ma said he made what was then the equivalent of $12 to $15.

Related: 6 Lessons The Founders Of iKhokha Used To Launch An African Fintech Start-up

He was first introduced to the internet in 1995

jack-ma-first-internet-search

What a search

In 1995, while on assignment as an interpreter in Seattle, a friend showed Ma the internet for the first time. His first search was on Yahoo for “beer.” However, it was through this search that Ma discovered there was no data about China, so he decided to launch a website called China Pages.

He was kidnapped and threatened with a handgun

jack-ma-vegas

kidnapped and threatened

During that same trip, which was his first time in the U.S., Ma also was assigned to go to Malibu, Calif., to collect debt from an American businessman on behalf of a friend. The businessman ended up locking Ma in his home and threatening him with a handgun. After a few days, the man brought Ma to Las Vegas with him when he was due to meet with a group of Chinese businessmen. Still without the money at this point, Ma won $600 on the slot machines in Vegas, bought a plane ticket to Seattle and left the scene.

His first entrepreneurial venture ended in failure

china-pages-jack-ma

Not everything is meant to work out

After borrowing $2,000 from friends to launch China Pages in an attempt to popularise the internet in China, Ma’s venture didn’t quite go as planned. It ran on a server with a dial-up connection in his small apartment, which made pages take more than three hours to load. At the time, his direct competitor was China Telecom, from whom Ma accepted an investment of $185,000 for a joint venture. In the end, however, Ma found he did not have much say in the business. Eventually, he left and took a job with China’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation.

Related: 5 Key Tactics That Helped Gill Bowen And Tim Hartzenberg Revitalise The Shooshoos Brand

He announced Alibaba in a videotaped meeting from his small apartment

Alibaba

Alibaba

By 1999, Ma was on to his next business idea for bringing the internet to China, and he had raised $60,000 from 18 friends to launch his ecommerce platform for small- and medium-sized businesses. Through a videotaped meeting that took place in his small apartment in Hangzhou, Ma introduced Alibaba.

The name “Alibaba” came from a children’s story

One Thousand and One Nights

One Thousand and One Nights

Ma got the name Alibaba from the folktale series One Thousand and One Nights. He was inspired by the story of the poor carpenter Ali Baba, who came across an abundant treasure.

While growing Alibaba, Ma and his team made mistakes along the way

Alibaba headquarters

Alibaba headquarters

Ma’s journey wouldn’t make for a true entrepreneurial story if mistakes and hardship weren’t involved. He attributes three somewhat counterintuitive factors to the success of Alibaba: having no money, no technology and no plan. He’s said that having limited resources made his team more diligent – especially when it came to money, because they had to use their limited funds carefully.

Even as Alibaba grew, Ma admits the company tried to expand too fast, was stretched too thin and had to lay off a lot of people. By the end of 2002, Ma said the company had made just $1 in profits.

Related: 6 Great Tips For A Successful Shark Tank Pitch

Alibaba holds the record for most money raised in an IPO

alibaba-office

Alibaba Office

When Alibaba went public in 2014, its $25 billion IPO broke records for the largest IPO in history – beating both Facebook and Visa.

But Ma wishes Alibaba never went public

Alibaba

Alibaba

In 2015, Ma admitted that if he could do it again, he would keep Alibaba private. “Now, after the IPO, it’s much worse,” he said in a speech to the Economic Club of New York. “If I had another life, I would keep my company private.” After Alibaba went public, it entered the spotlight and faced some scrutiny from investors, regulators and the media. Ma was playing on a bigger stage. “It’s not only our people that watch us,” he said, “the globe watches us.”

He says he doesn’t know much about technology

Jack Ma and Charlie Rose

Jack Ma and Charlie Rose

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Ma admitted that he actually doesn’t know much about technology, despite owning one of the most successful tech companies in the world. “I know nothing about technology,” he said. “The only thing I can use my computer [for] is [to] send [and] receive email and browse.”

Related: 3 Secrets To Franchising Success By Edible Arrangements CEO Tariq Farid

He loves to perform

jack-ma-michael-jackson

Show us you dance moves

Ma loves to put on a show. In 2009, during Alibaba’s 10th anniversary party, Ma threw on a blonde wig and performed The Lion King onstage. At the 2017 anniversary party, Ma went all out and dressed up as Michael Jackson from the Dangerous World Tour. With a group of hired backup dancers, he performed “Billie Jean” and Beyoncé’s “Formation.”

He’s the second-richest person in China

jack-ma-forbes

Jack Ma is the second-richest man in China

As of September 14, 2017, Ma is the second-richest man in China, according to Forbes. He has a net worth of $39 billion.

He stepped down as Alibaba’s CEO because he felt he was too old

jack-ma-interview

When I was 35, I was so energetic and fresh-thinking

In 2013, Ma stepped down as Alibaba’s CEO, saying, “I’m 48. I’m no longer young enough to run such a fast-growing business. When I was 35, I was so energetic and fresh-thinking.”

After stepping down as CEO, Ma refocused his efforts on social issues

JackMaFoundation

JackMaFoundation

In an interview with the Financial Times, Ma shared what he planned to do after leaving his executive position. “In China, because of problems in water, air and food safety, in 10 or 20 years, we will face a lot of health problems, like increased cancer. So that is one area where I will invest my money and time.”

Alibaba bought a stake in Citic 21CN in 2014, changing its name to Alibaba Health Information Technology Ltd. Since then, Ma has spent much of his time and money attempting to bring hospitals and pharmacies online.

That same year, Ma launched the JackMaFoundation, which focuses on education, the environment and public health. In 2015, Ma was recognised as China’s biggest philanthropist, having donated a total of $2.4 billion (after share options) to his foundation.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Can Being Deceptive Help You Build Your Business? It Worked For These 5 Entrepreneurs

We’ve all told little white lies. But what about the big ones? What if telling them would bring your business success?

Jayson Demers

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We all commit little acts of deception, like saying we got stuck in traffic when we were really late to the meeting because we wanted to watch the last five minutes of a favourite TV show. Little white lies? I’ve told them. You’ve told them.

But what about big lies, the kind truly lacking in integrity – like misrepresenting your sales to a prospective investor?

Obviously, there are often severe consequences to lying. Depending on the context, you could lose the trust of a peer, break a professional relationship or even face legal action. Yet, despite these consequences, lying is more common in the entrepreneurial world than you might think.

Just take as an example these five entrepreneurs, who might not be as well known or successful as they are if it weren’t for some clever acts of deception:

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Three Habits That Underpin Entrepreneurial Success

Here are three powerful habits that will help you stay focused, define your entrepreneurial attitude and take your business from zero to hero.

Nicholas Bell

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Successful people and businesses don’t all share the same traits and commitments. Yes they all have managed to break barriers and achieve impressive goals. They’re the leaders, the movers, the shakers and the industry creators. However, not all entrepreneurs are created equal and their recipes for success can differ wildly.

Some swear by a three-hour run every morning followed by a nice salad and the bustle of busy work life. Others need an incredibly early start so they can spend time with their emails and focus on their business. Every entrepreneur has their  own secret tricks that keep them on the straight and successful narrow, but most share a few simple habits that are guaranteed to make a difference.

Here are three habits that will help you become better at business and at leading others towards long-term success:

1. Always be ready to change your assumptions

Many people are unable to change the assumptions they have about their business and its future as it evolves. No business model should be locked in cement and rigidly upheld, it will need to adapt and adjust as it grows and customer needs change. As an entrepreneur you need to understand this concept and be prepared to evolve and change in new directions and markets.

Related: Business Plan Format Guide

This also ties into failure. Do you understand why you failed at something? Are you aware that perhaps your business model is changing? Can you learn from these experiences? Can you adjust your business model, get better research, refine your ideas? If you are ready to take positive value out of these moments and experiences, then you are an agile and inspired entrepreneur.

2. There’s no off switch

Passion and commitment are absolutely key to the success of your business and your own personal growth. You can’t switch off or walk away or just take a sick day because you feel like it, not if you want to stand as an example to your employees or if you want to build a brilliant business.

It may sound trite and tired, but a work ethic is the single most important habit to have as an entrepreneur. You need to always hold yourself to the highest standards, commit to ethical practice and work harder than anyone else.

3. Take it personally

This doesn’t mean gentle sobs in your office when Susan from accounts ridicules your maths skills. If you take your business personally, then you are wrapping the skills learned in points 1 and 2 above into one cohesive whole – you are embedding your passion into every crevice of your company. Care about what you do, be passionate about what it stands for, and be prepared to fight for its life. The route from zero to billion-dollar business isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it.

Remember, the idea is only 1%. Sweat, work, commitment and focus are the other 99% of the success equation.

Related: 22 Defining Entrepreneur Characteristics

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Head Of Audi South Africa Shares His Top Lessons On Weathering The Storm In Turbulent Times

When the economy isn’t playing ball, it’s time to roll up your sleeves, face your challenges head-on, and get to work, says Head of Audi SA, Trevor Hill.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Trevor Hill
  • Position: Head of Audi South Africa
  • Visit: www.audi.co.za 

“In everything we do, across the organisation, we ask this question: Is it the best? That’s our value proposition. Without it, we don’t have a clear direction for everyone to follow.”

Some of the biggest brands in the world are well-known for keeping things lean. Amazon is a prime example, where even Amazon-branded employee backpacks are reused. Many bloated organisations learnt the hard way in 2008 that if you aren’t efficient and focused on the bottom-line, you’ll struggle to survive in competitive and volatile environments. On the other hand, businesses that were already lean and flexible not only survived the recession — many of them actually thrived, mainly because they were far better equipped to handle new economic realities than their competitors.

According to research conducted by Bain & Co’s authors of The Founder’s Mentality, Chris Zook and James Lane Allen, 85% of the biggest growth challenges large-scale organisations face are internal. This doesn’t mean the economy and competitors don’t matter. But the way leaders and managers of those organisations react to economic and external stimuli does.

Trevor Hill, Head of Audi South Africa, is well-versed on the impact external stimuli can have on a brand — even an established premium brand like Audi South Africa. Economic and political conditions in South Africa have impacted consumer confidence, and the premium vehicle market has experienced year-on-year double digit declines over the past three years. “The premium market is almost half the size it was three years ago in South Africa,” he explains. “Consumer confidence, the high pricing of premium cars, and a general buying down trend have really impacted our market. Three years ago, we were selling close to 20 000 vehicles per year. Today we sell around 10 000 vehicles. You can’t ignore market conditions. You need to face them head on, and do what’s best for your employees, the brand and your consumers.”

Related: 10 Ways To Develop A Success-Oriented Mindset

Here are Trevor’s five lessons for weathering the storm so that your business and brand are well positioned when market recovery begins.

1. Have a clear value proposition that everyone understands and embraces

“We will never be the biggest in the South African market,” says Trevor. “Mercedes-Benz and BMW produce in South Africa and have an advantage over us in terms of export credits. If we can’t be the biggest though, we can focus on being the best. That is entirely within our control.

“Our ‘Best’ strategy says that we want to be the best organisation, have the best product, the best brand and the best customer service. Everything we do must be looked at through this lens – is it the best? If we host an event, have we chosen the best venue, event organisers and caterers? Does the look and feel match our standards? If we can’t be the best — we don’t do it.

“In everything we do, across the organisation, we ask this question: Is it the best? That’s our value proposition. Without it, we don’t have a clear direction for everyone to follow.”

2. Understand what’s in your control and then roll up your sleeves and get it done

The rate cut at the end of 2017 really helped the premium market towards the end of the year. The problem is that there are things you can control — such as running a lean organisation — and things you can’t control, such as whether or not there will be another rate cut. So how do you ensure a proactive culture rather than a defeatist mentality when times are tough?

“The spirit of Audi has always been to challenge boundaries, roll up our sleeves and forge our own future,” says Trevor. “It’s in our ‘Vorsprung’ DNA. This has never been more applicable than when we’re weathering a storm, but it has to be fostered when the waters are calm.”

The theory is straightforward. If an organisation isn’t used to challenging boundaries and being in control of its own destiny, it’s difficult to find those characteristics when they’re really needed. When something is woven into a brand’s DNA, it’s because it’s always there, and the organisation’s entire culture supports it.

Trevor can point to examples everywhere. For example, in the 1980s, Audi was the first car manufacturer to put a five-cylinder engine and four-wheel drive on a rally car, and cleaned up two years in a row as a result.

“The Audi spirit is that you can improve anything. You just need to be willing to put in the work.”

Faced with extremely tough local conditions, the South African team is now doing just that: Rolling up its sleeves and finding solutions.

“This is how we handle the business as a whole. We’ve been completely upfront with head office and our investors about current market conditions, but we aren’t complaining — we’re putting the facts on the table, showing them what we can control, and unpacking how we’re going to see the business rolling forward. Because of that attitude and transparency, we have everyone’s full support.”

3. Never throw money at a problem; smart solutions aren’t necessarily the most expensive

trevor-hill

“Spending a fortune on brand campaigns isn’t going to change the reality of the current market conditions,” says Trevor. “It’s easy to throw money at a problem, but then what? We’ve taken a different approach. We’ve selected a number of brand ambassadors whose values really align with our own. These include TBO Touch, Cameron van der Burgh, Wayde van Niekerk and Nomzamo Mbatha. Their followers know what they stand for, and associate Audi with those same values. It’s a much more targeted and niche way to gain awareness for our brand.”

For Trevor, not throwing money at a problem is a value that should be ingrained in an organisation. “We approached 2018 with this value top of mind. At the end of 2017 our management team went away for a strategy session. We collectively took a look at the entire business and asked what we needed to do to drive this business through the stormy waters of 2018.

“Each manager then got a target for their division that was aligned with the other divisions and organisation as a whole. They then conducted individual strategy sessions with their teams. The whole thing was a problem-solving mission: This is the budget we have, this is where our focus needs to be, now how do we go out and deliver the best? What’s our plan?

“These plans were then aligned with each other to ensure everyone was going in the same direction, and we measure everything. My KPIs filter down to the management team, and theirs filter down to their teams. It’s a very inclusive system; everyone can workshop the problem, and in that way we don’t only gather some out-the-box ideas, but we get everyone’s buy-in as well.”

Related: You Need This One Trait To Succeed In Reaching Your Goals

4. Encourage your team to try new things and communicate collaboratively

Very often, individual divisions communicate well together, but the message and camaraderie is lost across divisions, particularly between sales and marketing. “We’ve found two ways to encourage participation and camaraderie across the business,” says Trevor. “The first is that we always encourage new ideas. If something is tried and tested and doing well, especially in marketing, try to own that property. But if something isn’t giving you what you want, change it. We’re often too scared to change things that aren’t working or to try something new. We encourage participation and thinking differently. The bigger your pool of ideas, the more you have to work with.”

The company also has a number of monthly meetings that bring different divisions into the same room for workshop sessions. “We have a lot of field staff who aren’t often in the office. We need to keep communicating with them to pull them into the fold,” explains Trevor. “For example, once a month we have marketing and product meetings. The marketing, product and sales teams all attend. It gives everyone an opportunity to know what’s happening and hash out any questions or issues then and there. The communication between divisions — particularly marketing and sales — is much better as a result.”

5. Keep your core motivated

Like many industries, there’s a lot of employee movement in the consumer and premium brands segment. “People move. That’s the reality of job markets around the world,” says Trevor. But stability is important, and at Audi SA, that means identifying your core employees and keeping them happy.

“We have a very strong core. Within the organisation we’ve identified a core group of employees whom we absolutely need if we’re going to continue to run this business efficiently and successfully. Once you’ve identified your core, you need to keep them happy, and that’s about a lot more than their paycheque.

“Different people want different things — advancement, developing their careers, an opportunity to work abroad or perhaps spend more time with their families at home.”

The lesson? Figure out what’s important to each member of your core and try your best to give it to them. Success is a team sport — you need to keep that core team in your corner.


MAKING A SUCCESS OF NEW TERRITORIES

Trevor Hill began his career with Audi as an area manager in 1989. In 1997 he left South Africa to join Audi’s head office in Germany. Since then he has headed up divisions in Germany, Japan, China, Dubai and South Korea. One of the biggest lessons he’s learnt through his travels is that while there are certain business fundamentals that hold true everywhere, each culture has its own way of doing business, and you need to understand what that is on the ground if you’re going to make an impact and be successful.

“One of the biggest things I’ve had to communicate back to head office is that each territory operates slightly differently,” explains Trevor. “For example, in Germany, you have 100 days in any new job to prove yourself. If you don’t make something happen in those 100 days, you’re not seen to be successful. This is impossible in Asia, where business is all about relationships. You have to develop a relationship based on trust and honesty, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Until you have that trust though, your employees and customers won’t work with you. When you enter a new territory, take your time. The first year is all about understanding the lay of the land. In the second year you can implement your strategy, and in the third year you can start reaping rewards.”

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