FAST FACTS: Get to know Chinese business magnate Jack Ma

Katerina Francisco

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FAST FACTS: Get to know Chinese business magnate Jack Ma
The self-made billionaire and former English teacher is the founder of China's biggest e-commerce company, Alibaba Group

MANILA, Philippines – The 24-hour visit of Chinese business icon Jack Ma generated buzz among technology enthusiasts last week.

Aside from meeting President Rodrigo Duterte and receiving an hononary doctorate degree, Ma offered his insights on the rapid advance of technology, as well as the Philippines’ potential in fintech services.

Ma is ranked 14th in Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, which lists the top 500 richest people in the world.

According to Bloomberg, the self-made billionaire has a net worth of $46 billion – enough to buy 761 million barrels of crude oil or 35.9 million troy ounces of gold. 

China’s richest man started from humble beginnings. Born in 1964 to parents who made a living as Chinese traditional musician-storytellers in Hangzhou, he taught himself English at age 12 and failed the college entrance exams twice before getting into the Hangzhou Teacher’s University.

He worked as a teacher for several years, before he moved into the translation business. His foray into business and technology began with a visit to a friend’s house in Seattle in 1995, where he learned to create a home page to advertise his translation services.

His first attempt at an internet-based business – China Pages – flopped, but Ma tried again in 1999. With the help of friends who raised $60,000, he founded Alibaba.

The online marketplace attracted members from all over the world, and by 2002, Alibaba had 1 million users. Ma also built retail site Taobao, which directly competes with eBay, followed by Alipay, an online payment platform, which now has more than 800 million registered users.

Alibaba went on to become China’s biggest e-commerce company, defeating eBay to dominate the e-commerce industry in China. In 2014, Alibaba’s initial public offering in New York set a record as the world’s biggest public stock offering. 

Ma has been called the “Steve Jobs of China,” with Forbes contributor Rebecca Fannin saying of him: “No other Chinese entrepreneur has the Jobs-like star quality, strategic vision and flair for promotion that Ma does.”

As a leader, Ma is also known for his love of performance and theatrical flair, helping create a fun atmosphere at the company.

“When Alibaba first became profitable, Ma provided every employee with a can of Silly String to go wild with. When the company decided to start Taobao, its eBay competitor, in the early 2000s, he got the team working on it to do handstands during breaks to keep their energy levels up,” Business Insider wrote in a 2014 profile on Ma.

Ma stepped down as Alibaba Group CEO in 2013, although he remains chairman. He’s said in interviews that he would like to return to teaching someday. –

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