The art of attackI had a chance to see Jack Ma closely when I visited the Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou in 2010. It was at the Alifest forum, where Alibaba invites internationally renowned businessmen and celebrities. That year, guest speakers included California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and eBay CEO John Donahoe.
Ma went on stage and spoke with confidence. What was especially noteworthy to me was that Ma repeatedly emphasized that he had promised to drive eBay beyond China, and he kept that promise. The U.S. e-commerce giant eBay moved into the Chinese market in the early 2000s, but withdrew in 2006 after losing the “war” against Alibaba.
I thought Ma was being very pompous, especially since the CEO of eBay was invited to the forum. When Alibaba was competing against eBay, Ma had said, “eBay may be a shark in the ocean, but I am a crocodile in the Yangtze River. If we fight in the ocean, we lose — but if we fight in the river, we win.”
China’s “Singles’ Day” shopping events on Nov. 11 showed that Jack Ma and Alibaba have gotten only more powerful. Sales went up by 39 percent from last year, breaking the record again with $25.3 billion. Customers from 225 countries logged in and made purchases, and 600,000 local shops participated in the event. Global celebrities invited to the gala included Nicole Kidman, Luis Figo, Maria Sharapova and Lang Lang. The online market boasted stronger technology, processing 256,000 orders per second at peak hours, 113 percent of last year’s capacity. Alibaba is ready to become a global technology company with an online payment system and cloud computing.
Behind Alibaba’s success are the gigantic Chinese market and mobile boom. But what made Ma an entrepreneur is his drive. Born to a poor family, Ma rode a bicycle to a Hangzhou hotel 40 minutes from home every day for nine years, starting at the age of 12. He offered free guides to tourists so he could practice his English, which helped him when he visited the United States as an interpreter for China’s business mission, granting him exchanges with foreign investors and entrepreneurs.
Ma is an avid fan of martial arts stories. He recently appeared as Feng Qingyang in the martial arts movie, “The Art of Attack and Defense.” Feng is a character from the novel “The Smiling, Proud Wanderer” by Jin Yong, who teaches the main character the formidable skill of “Nine Swords of Dugu.” Feng Qingyang is also a nickname Ma uses in his company. It exudes confidence and a fighting spirit. It’s been a while since Korean business leaders have shown such aggressiveness and desperation.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 16, Page 30
*The author is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.