An era ended at the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba with the stepping down of its founder chairman Jack Ma on Tuesday. The company that he had cofounded in 1999 became one of the largest internet based company in the world.
Ma is also considered to be one of the most recognizable businessmen globally from China because of his success and colourful style.
Ma would be replaced as executive chairman by Daniel Zhang who is presently the chief executive of the company.
According to Forbes, currently, Ma is the richest man in China with a net worth of $38.6bn while the present valuation of the company he cofounded is at $480bn.
Ma is also among the first founders of major Chinese internet based companies to relinquish the post of chief of their own companies.
“I think it will be very hard to replace somebody like Jack Ma,” said Rebecca Fannin, author of a book on China’s technology titans. “He is one of a kind. He is the Steve Jobs of China.”
Ma was born in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou in a poor family and was a teacher during his early career days. The man who set up one of the largest internet based companies of the world managed to buy his first computer when he was 33 years old. And according to Ma himself, he was surprised when his first search for “beer” did not reveal any Chinese companies.
Ma managed to convince a group of friends to invest in his business idea which lead to the founding of Alibaba from his apartment even though he himself had no background in computers. However Alibaba was not the first business venture of Ma.
“Alibaba was his third attempt at a company, he had two trials before,” said Duncan Clark who has written a book about Ma and is also chairman of investment consultancy BDA China. “He saw the promise of the internet quite early on, but it took a while for him to have a vehicle.”
Within a period of a couple of decades, Ma turned Alibaba from a small startup operating from his apartment to an online marketplace and later to an e-commerce giant that has a wide range of business interests from financial services to artificial intelligence.
In the initial years, Alibaba was a trading platform for businesses and was in 2003, Ma transformed the company into an consumer e-commerce firm. He later ventured into the world of financial services with the addition of the digital payment platform Alipay.
Ma’s biggest assets for success were charisma and strategic vision, even though he did not have any background in technology and no specific strength in finance, Clark said. “His charm is a big part of his leadership, his ability to convince people whether it’s customers, employees or critically shareholders.”
When Ma led Alibaba to get listed in New York, the IPO set the record of being the biggest public stock offering of the world.
(Adapted from BBC.com)