The AliBaba Legacy

Jack Ma on the Path to True Greatness

Jack Ma, the billionaire Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group; with a fortune of nearly $30 billion, created a media blitz during his first visit to Malaysia to launch the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ), followed by his keynote speech on the second day of the GTF 2017 conference on March 23, 2017.

As one of China’s richest men, Ma the man of the moment. His name was literally the buzzword that kept everyone excited at the Global Transformation Forum (GTF) 2017.

Today, Alibaba is a dominant force in Chinese e-commerce, with a market value of $264 billion and some 450 million customers. As the global ambassador for Chinese business over the past year, Ma is a celebrity business icon who has visited Princes, Presidents, and Prime Ministers, and now acting as advisor to the Malaysian Government on its digital economy.

As the final speaker at the GTF conference; all eyes were riveted on Ma and his powerful speech. There were hardly any empty seats at the KLCC auditorium, as the crowd filled the aisle near the entrance to listen to him.

Speaking fluently in English, Ma was candid, focused and insightful, as he delivered his thought provoking messages about the future of the internet, and living in the digital age.

Among the interesting topics he covered include: the future of mobile e-commerce, Man vs Machines, and the role of women in organizations. Despite his small built, Jack Ma got a big voice and a big heart. Most importantly, he was humble and down-to-earth, and the audience could resonate with his vision, and relate to his sense of humour.



While walking towards the auditorium, Ma said he overhead someone saying: “The Great” Jack Ma is in the room, but he quickly dismissed the idea, saying there is nothing great about being Jack Ma, and he never agreed to such glorified titles, which was painted of him by the media, after the `overnight success’ of Alibaba — a Chinese e-commerce company which he set up with a group of friends in his apartment in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province in 1999.

Today, Alibaba Group generates an annual gross merchandise volume (GMV) of US$580bil (RM2.5tril) – placing it at the 21st position on the list of countries by GDP – with a goal of achieving one trillion dollars by 2020.

Comparing himself to Usain Bolt, he said: “I am not a talented person. I’ve failed many, many times,” and unlike Bolt who trusted his coach completely, Ma said he is more skeptical and would not take things at face value, i will think things over before accepting any advice from others, even from my teacher or mother”.



Born in Hangzhou, China in 1964, and graduated from Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute with a major in English language education, Ma failed a college entrance exam three times.

Once ruled out of college, he applied for 30 different jobs and got rejected again and again, and finally theorized that “It is more natural to be rejected than accepted.”

Recounting his bad job experience, he said: “I went for a job with the police; they said, “You are no good.” I even went to KFC when it came to my city. Twenty-four people went for the job, 23 were accepted. I was the only guy…” which got the crowd roaring in laughter.

Although there are already many books written about him, Ma said he has no plans to write another book about his life just yet, but one day, perhaps when he is older, he may write a book entitled: “Ali Baba: 1001 Mistakes,” because it is the mistakes that become the stepping stones to our success,” he added.



Jack Ma said the mobile revolution has literally transformed the way we work, live, and play. And he is confidence that online business would account for at least 90% of businesses in the next 20 to 30 years, as globalization has enabled entrepreneurs to transform into “net-trepreneurs” to cater to people’s needs across the world.

“The mobile phone is an amazing technology, with 80 percent being used for other applications, than just making phone calls,

“The world is changing so fast, and human beings have not been so lucky until now. To young people, this is your time – as every technology creates new jobs, new retail, and new finances,

“With data time, now everybody has a chance to win, as technological revolution and e-commerce will continue to change every aspect of business and world economy in the next two to three decades,” he added.



Jack Ma said another reason why Alibaba had massive success in China was because they really needed an e-commerce platform to bring all the traders and manufacturers under one roof, as there are more than 10 million businesses in China today that try to sell and do their business online.

“Every technology revolution create more jobs but they create different jobs, and there will be several technological revolution that will change the world, one of which, is the new retail,

“One reason why Chinese e-commerce grew so fast, faster than United States is because the US traditional retail business and infrastructure was so good that internet was slow to enter,

“But in China, the traditional retail is not good, therefore e-commerce becomes the key technology that improves the new retail, and made it grow faster,

“In United States, e-commerce was like dessert, but in China it has become the main course.” Ironically, that’s one of reasons why Chinese e-commerce succeeded and grew faster than in the United States., added Jack Ma.


“The future is both online and offline working together, plus logistics.”


Although we live in a technologically advanced age today, Ma believes that machines will not replace human beings, or the human touch in the future.

“The third tech revolution is coming, and as time goes by, technology will continue to improve and become faster, more capable, and more powerful,” said Ma, but that doesn’t mean that people and jobs will become obsolete. In fact, the challenge is to become more a refined human being in the process.

“As the world is changing, we have to teach our kids values and culture. The future revolution is about liberation of the brain. It is not a competition of knowledge, but a competition of user experience, a competition about caring and empowering others,

“The Third World War will happen, but it is not against each other. The war is about people coming together to fight against the weather, the environment and diseases,”

Although machines can do something that humans cannot do, but humans will always thrive against machines with creativity, imagination, and teamwork.



Ma said although it is important to be efficient, it is also important to be healthy and happy which leads to long term productivity and sustainability.

“Happiness and health are double-edged strategy. If you create business systems to help others to become happy and healthy, then your business will be great,

“We are familiar with the terms Intelligent Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ) but moving forward, we need Love Quotient (LQ),” said Ma.

Therefore, to ensure sustainability, every good organization needs more caring people. A viable solution is for companies to employ more women as they are more caring and considerate, adding that more than half of the group’s employees were women.

“If you want your company to be sustainable, you should hire more women because women have the natural ability to care for people, and companies should hire them more,” said Ma, adding that one-third of his senior management staff are women, and more than half of Alibaba’s power sellers are also women.



Although Alibaba is the buzzword right now, Jack Ma said: “Life is not just about Alibaba… although, I may not be the richest man in the world like Bill Gates, I want to be the first to retire before him,” he said.

In fact, he would consider his life to be a failure, if he still attend board meetings in his 80s. Last but not least, Jack Ma said he would rather die on the beach than in the office when the time comes.

Life is a rich adventure, that must be lived and experienced fully. “Work is important, but it should not dominate every aspect of life. There are many other important and wonderful pursuits in life that is worth discovering, including the pursuit of happiness and contribution to society,” he concluded.



Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak launched the DTFZ on March 22, 2017, with Alibaba Group founder and executive chairman Jack Ma, who was appointed as Malaysia’s digital economy advisor last year.

The DFTZ, is reported to be the first outside China and only second in the world, will also see the creation of a new Kuala Lumpur Internet City (KLIC) in Bandar Malaysia. The KLIC aims to house at least 1,000 Internetlinked firms and 25,000 tech professionals.

Drawing reference to the Silk Road, which he referred to as the “first globalization”, Ma said the export of China’s tea leaves were possible as they were placed in tin containers sourced from Malaysia. “Without Malaysia, the Silk Road would not have been as successful as Malaysia’s tin, which protected the quality of Chinese tea in the 18th century.

“I am a strong believer of globalization, but it is still in its infancy, but we should give it another 20 to 30 years, making it more inclusive and getting more people involved,” he added.

At the launch DTFZ, the Alibaba Group and its affiliates also exchanged memorandums of understanding with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), Malaysia Airports Holdings, CIMB and Maybank.



Jack Ma met Najib in Beijing last November during his official visit to China, and told Malaysia to “act fast” and he was surprised at the speed of implementation. He said it was a plan that took “only 10 minutes” for Najib to agree on, and it only took four months for Ma’s proposal to become a reality.

“My team and I thought, ‘Is this possible? We have been discussing it for much longer with many other European and Asean countries; but Malaysia is very business-friendly, and much more efficient than I thought,” he said during his speech.



On his role as advisor to the Malaysian government on the digital economy, Ma said he would be sharing the group’s digital knowledge during the upcoming visit by Najib and his delegation. The prime minister is expected to visit Alibaba’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China, before attending the Belt and Road Summit on May 14, 2017.



Jack Ma also announced that the Alibaba Group will set up an “e-hub” in Kuala Lumpur, among a slew of other efforts, to promote the development of the local digital economy. Ma said the e-hub would empower young entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises that want to venture out of the country.

As part of the DFTZ, the group’s regional e-commerce and logistics hub will be located at the KLIA Aeropolis, which will operate out of the existing 17.5ha Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) site.

The group’s first “e-hub”, outside of China, will function as a centralised customs clearance, warehousing and fulfilment facility for Malaysia and nearby countries. It is expected to be rolled out by end of the year, with a formal launch by 2019.



The Ali Baba chief wants the newly-launched DFTZ to be a Malaysian business run by Malaysians, instead of the group. Ma says they hired and trained Malaysians in China, subsequently sending them home to ensure that the business in Malaysia is run by locals.

“We want to make sure that it becomes a Malaysian business instead of Alibaba’s business. The e-hub should focus on looking for partners and empowering them, as what we did in India and Indonesia,” said Ma, adding the e-hub belongs to Malaysia and should be operated by Malaysians.”




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