Art And Culture

Leadership Lessons from Jack Ma, Alibaba Founder

“No matter how tough the chase is, you should always have the dream you saw on the first day. It’ll keep you motivated and rescue you (from any weak thoughts).” —Jack Ma

Ma Yun or popularly known as Jack Ma is the founder of Alibaba who rose from humble origins and became a role model for other entrepreneurs globally. He is a self-made billionaire. His evolution from an English teacher to an e-commerce empire builder can become an ideal inspiring case study in business schools. In this regard, we will discuss the lessons from his leadership.

Leadership Lessons from Jack Ma

“A leader should have higher grit and tenacity, and be able to endure what the employees can’t.” —Jack Ma

Jack Ma

Jack Ma was born in 1964. He was an English teacher and ventured into the e-commerce business. He admits, “English helps me a lot. It makes me understand the world better, helps me to meet the best CEOs and leaders in the world, and makes me understand the distance between China and the world.” He has entrepreneurial zeal and enthusiasm. He encountered several failures. He was rejected by Harvard and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). He wears his failures as badges of honor.

Time and timing favored him. When he entered the business, the internet was booming. English became an advantage for him to explore entrepreneurial opportunities outside China. He leveraged the English language effectively and the timing of the internet swiftly to start his e-commerce business. Wharton management professor David Hsu identified three aspects that distinguish Jack Ma. “First and foremost, his early recognition of the entrepreneur opportunity [in China], seizing it and building the vision and the company to execute in the face of a very complicated business environment.

Secondly, he has blazed a different career path than the tried-and-true model for many Chinese. He’s very forthright about his various failures. He has been quite persistent; seizing on various opportunities, he’s had to create his own fortunes. Third, retiring early and having the aspiration to do something else to keep his mind active and to go into a different domain than what he’s in, rather than just resting on the Alibaba legacy.” Here are some lessons to learn from his leadership.

Hire the right people rather than the best people. Jack Ma hires people smarter than him. He trains and grooms them as per the organizational culture and requirements. He emphasizes the importance of attitude and passion over theoretical skills in his employees.

Be part of the solution, not the problem. Avoid complaining. He says that successful people never complain. They are optimistic and partner with others. Use your precious time to explore entrepreneurial opportunities.

Failure is only a comma, not a full stop. Jack Ma remarked, “We made more mistakes than anybody can imagine. We made mistakes in raising capital. We made mistakes in management. We made mistakes in HR.” Failures are a learning ground.

Love the government but don’t marry them. Jack Ma did not get any support from the government. He raised capital from the market and other sources, especially from customers. He showed more returns to his shareholders and customers. Customers became happy and respected him. He loves to be respected than to be liked.

Take risks. Groom the next generation of leaders. Create opportunities for the people and the government. Empower others to be successful in the world. Make other people powerful. Be a giver, not a taker. Never give up.

Be persistent. Jack Ma is passionate about business. He is committed. He believes in teamwork. He adopts the philosophy of ‘customers first, employees second, and shareholders third’. He embraces change and emphases achieving success with integrity.

Jack Ma

Be ahead of times and technologies. Understand what people want and what people don’t want. Jack Ma learned English which most Chinese knew. He utilized the internet in the early stage. He is a good teacher and a great learner. He believes that more problems mean more opportunities. He implores to solve big problems to become big in life.

Improve the Mindset of Millennials

“Help young people. Help small guys. Because small guys will be big. Young people will have the seeds you bury in their minds, and when they grow up, they will change the world.” —Jack Ma

Hollywood inspired Jack Ma. He likes the film ‘Forrest Gump’. He practices Tai Chi and martial arts. He enjoys teaching, reading, writing, and serving. He implores his employees to work hard for others, not for themselves. He loves philanthropy. He opines that young people are depressed and often complain a lot. They must improve their mindset and view the world with optimism to explore opportunities. He wants to teach young people and intends to spend time with them.

Jack Ma

Never Give Up 

“Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.” —Jack Ma

Jack Ma is intelligent and practical. He is cool and composed. He has tons of enthusiasm with a sense of humor. He is a good listener and a great storyteller. He shares anecdotes and examples to connect with others. He is diplomatic in his business dealings. He is a visionary leader and an effective decision-maker who always thinks several steps ahead of others. He is an ideal example that nothing is impossible in this world. To conclude, Jack Ma is a leader with humility and humanity. He will be remembered for this grit, determination, and philanthropy.

“I want to change history, do something important in my life, and influence individuals like we have with millions of small businesses on Alibaba. Then they love and respect you because you made their life important.” —Jack Ma

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Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.
Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D. is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with forty years of experience and the author of fifty books including the award-winning See the Light in You: Acquire Spiritual Powers to Achieve Mindfulness, Wellness, Happiness, and Success (Waterside Productions; January 16, 2020). He is a C-Suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision given his multifaceted professional experience including military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications. His vision is to build one million students as global leaders by 2030. He has the vision to share his knowledge freely with one billion people globally. He advocates gender equality globally (#HeForShe). He was ranked #1 Thought Leader and Influencer in HR globally by Thinkers360. He invests his time in authoring books and blogging on executive education, learning, and leadership. Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs including Vision 2030: One Million Global Leaders. He is a prolific author and a dynamic, energetic, and inspirational leadership speaker. Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D. is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.