He recently made headlines after his visit with US President Donald Trump and subsequent announcement of his assistance in creating 1 million jobs in the United States. He has inspired and empowered millions of people around the world especially with his incredible and true rags-to-riches story and now, Kenya will have the privilege of hosting the sensational Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma.
According to Forbes, Jack is worth an estimated $29 billion and this includes his 7.8% stake in the Alibaba Group — China’s answer to Amazon — and close to 50% stake in the payment-processing service, Alipay.
Although Alibaba and Jack Ma aren’t household names outside China, it’s worth noting that Alibaba is worth more than Facebook and processes goods more than eBay and Amazon combined!
What’s his story?
Ma Yun a.k.a. Jack Ma is among the rare breed of self-made billionaires with humble beginnings. Born in Hangzhou, south-east China, he was raised alongside his elder brother and younger sister at the rise of communist China and its isolation from the Western regions. His parents were poor and made a living as traditional Musicians-Storytellers. That income wasn’t adequate to have them even considered as middle class at the time.
Rejections and failures
Without money or connections, the only way Ma could get ahead was through education. Jack Ma failed in his Primary School examinations twice! He failed thrice during his Middle School exams. When applying to universities after his High school, Jack failed the entrance exams twice, before finally joining University. He even applied and wrote to Harvard University ten times about being admitted – and got rejected each time.
He graduated in 1988 and started applying to as many jobs as he could.
Jack tried and failed to get a job at a several places after applying to them about 30 times in total! He once recollected at an interview, “When KFC came to China, 24 people went for the job. Twenty-three people were accepted. I was the only guy who wasn’t.”
He was also one of the 5 applicants for a job in Police force and he was the only rejected being told, “No, you’re no good.”
At one of his interviews, when Jack was asked about his past rejections, he stated “Well, I think we have to get used to it. We’re not that good.” Naturally, he learned to overcome the pain of rejection and how to treat rejection as an opportunity to get better every time.
When former US president Richard Nixon visited Hangzhou in 1972, there was an increase of tourists in his home-town. It was like a tourist Mecca and Jack wanted to make the most of it. He always wanted to learn English. He spent his early mornings riding his bike to a nearby park and at the city hotel, he met visitors and gave them tours for free in exchange for English lessons.
It was then he met a tourist who gave him the nickname ‘Jack’ because she found his name “difficult to spell”.
After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in English, he worked as a teacher at Hangzhou Dianzi University and earned just $12 a month!
Computers, the Internet and technology
Jack was captivated by the internet when he first used it during a trip to the US in 1995. He had just begun a translation business and he made the trip to help a Chinese firm recover some money. His first search online was “beer” and surprisingly, he found no Chinese beers in the results. It was then that he made a decision to found an internet company for China.
His first two ventures failed but four years later, he got together 17 friends in his apartment and convinced them to invest in his vision – an online marketplace he called “Alibaba.” This website allowed exporters to list products which customers could buy directly.
Initially, Alibaba hadn’t a single penny from outside investors but soon got attention and raised $20 Million from SoftBank – a Japanese telecom company that also invests in technology companies and another $5 Million from Goldman Sachs in 1999.
Building trust among the people of China that an online system of payment and package transfers is safe was the biggest challenge Jack Ma and Alibaba faced, a challenge that Jack will cherish for life.
Fast forward to 2005, Yahoo invested $1 billion in Alibaba in exchange for close to 40% stake in the company. This massive for Alibaba — at the time it was trying to beat eBay in China — and it would turn out to be a big win for Yahoo as well, netting it $10 billion in Alibaba’s IPO alone.
At an interview, Ma told Bloomberg that he knew Alibaba had made it big when another customer offered to pay his restaurant bill.
“I’m your customer of Alibaba group, I made a lot of money and I know you don’t make any money,” said the customer. “I’ll pay the bill for you.”
The company’s $150-billion IPO was the largest offering for a US-listed company in the history of the New York Stock Exchange at the time. It also made Ma the richest man in China, with an estimated worth of $25 billion.
This made Ma an extremely wealthy man though he has made very few flashy purchases and he still maintains some pretty modest hobbies. “I don’t think he has changed much, he is still that old style,” Xiao-Ping Chen, a friend of Ma, told USA Today in an interview.
He likes reading and writing kung fu fiction, playing poker, meditating, and practising tai chi.
After the IPO, Alibaba employees threw a huge party at the company’s Hangzhou headquarters in celebration. Ma told employees at a press conference that he hoped they would use their newfound wealth to become “a batch of genuinely noble people, a batch of people who are able to help others, and who are kind and happy.”
Ma’s visit to Kenya
Ma’s visit to Kenya is scheduled for July 20 where in the morning hours, he will engage entrepreneurs at NaiLab who will have a fireside chat with Jack on “The role of small businesses in global trade”
In the afternoon, he will lead a delegation representing Chairmen and CEOs of leading companies in Asia. Industries represented will include: ecommerce, financial services, health, real estate, technology, and pharmaceuticals.
The objective of this busiess-to-business session will be to introduce Chinese and African leading business players to cultivate mutual understanding and initial relationships.
It will also serve to present and discuss the key opportunities and challenges facing the future development of the economies in Africa and the special role that technology, education, entrepreneurship and young people can play.