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Explained: The making of e-commerce titan Jack Ma

Om Marathe
Jack Ma, founder and chairman of the Alibaba Group (File Photo)

Jack Ma, founder and chairman of the Alibaba Group, China s largest online commerce company, will step down on September 10. Ma s resignation was announced in September last year, when the company unveiled its succession plan.

According to Reuters, the Alibaba Group s annual revenue this year is forecast to reach $72 billion, showing a growth of 36%. In India, the Group s portfolio includes investments in Paytm, Zomato, and BigBasket.

Ma himself is valued at $38.4 billion, and occupies the 21st spot on the Forbes list of richest billionaires. Apart from his business triumphs, the Chinese entrepreneur is known for his charismatic public appearances and philanthropic work.

Humble beginnings

Ma, born in 1964 to folk artiste parents, grew up in Hangzhou in eastern China. At an early age, he began learning English by working as a guide for foreign tourists visiting Hangzhou. He was keenly interested in becoming an English teacher, and secured admission to the Hangzhou Teachers College after two failed attempts.

He graduated with a degree in English in 1988, and taught English at the Hangzhou Dianzi University until 1993. He subsequently started a company in 1994, which provided English translation and interpretation services.

The Alibaba journey

Ma got the idea of venturing into e-commerce in 1995, after coming across the Internet during a visit to the United States. Upon returning to China, he started China Pages, a company that made websites for businesses. Ma left the company two years later to work in a company in Beijing sponsored by the Chinese government.

In 1999, Ma returned to Hangzhou from Beijing to start the Alibaba Group, a company aimed at connecting small businesses on one platform. Focussing on the B2B (business to business) trading model, Alibaba grew rapidly.

Ma s next venture in 2003, Taobao, was a C2C (consumer to consumer) marketplace, which aggressively took on eBay, which then had the dominant share in the Chinese market. By 2007, Taobao had become the country s top player after implementing a novel income model.

Internet giant Yahoo! bought a 40% stake in the company in 2005. Alibaba s Hong Kong IPO in 2007 was hugely successful, raking in $ 1.7 billion.

A 2014 IPO on the New York Stock Exchange raised $ 21.8 billion for the Alibaba Group, and the company was valued at $ 168 billion. This IPO was the biggest in history for an Internet company.

In 2018, Ma announced that he would be resigning in September 2019. He would, however, continue on Alibaba s board until the expiry of his term in 2020.