Over the last two decades, Jack Ma has become one of the most recognisable figures in global business as the founder and charismatic Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce, payments and technology conglomerate.
Alibaba is not only the world’s largest retailer and e-commerce portal, it is among the top ten companies in the world by revenue. It is a force for innovation in payments, data-driven marketing, logistics, and economic development – not just in China, but globally.
Today, the Alibaba name is synonymous with almost every aspect of Chinese consumer culture. The company has been a primary driver of China’s cashless transformation, and its portfolio of e-commerce properties are considered imperative gateways into the lucrative China market for brands.
But the company hardly seemed positioned for success in 1999, when Ma – who spent nine years of his youth cycling 70 miles to practice his English with tourist groups - started the company in his Hangzhou apartment, with a group of 18 friends and students scraping together US$50,000. Ma had learned about the internet on a trip to the US in the mid-90s, but the internet barely existed in China. Computers were very rare and mobile phones non-existent (even Ma himself did not get his own computer until he was 33 years old).