15 Business Lessons from Jack Ma

8 January 2021

There’s a Lot You Can Learn From One of The Biggest Business Tycoons Hailing from China – Jack Ma!

Where is Jack Ma? That’s the question on everybody’s lips. It’s the 2021 version of Find Wally, except we don’t have a tell-tale red and white striped shirt, blue trousers and bobble hat to help us out.

Aluxers, Jack Ma is the founder of Alibaba Group… the site where you can buy anything from a cryolipolysis slimming machine to portable container toilets, and everything in between.

Ma hasn’t been seen in a few months. He was first reported MIA, but new reports suggest he is just hanging low. He made some “controversial” comments in October, 2020 – suggesting that China’s regulation system was stifling innovation and said that their global banking rules were like an “old people’s club.”

We sincerely hope he resurfaces soon, because you’ll understand what a loss it will be if he doesn’t, after reading this article about 15 Business lessons from Jack Ma.

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We’re already analyzing the man’s business struggle, why not save some cognitive battery and have the content narrated to you? Switch to the video version of this article:

With that plugged in, let’s get right back into the article.


Learn a Skill That Sets You Apart From Others

Ma is from Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang. A visit to his hometown by President Nixon in 1972 saw an influx of tourists to Hangzhou, and Ma as a young teenager, saw this as a golden opportunity.

He would wake up at 5am every morning and take the 40-minute trip to the city’s main hotel and greet all the tourists in English.

From there, he started offering tours of the city in exchange for English lessons. It was one of his tourists that called him Jack, and it’s stuck ever since.

Find out what skills could set you apart from your peers. Learn something new that could put you at an advantage down the line. A simple example – stop scrolling social media and download a language learning app. When you’re a bit bored or waiting in line, learn a new language instead of wasting time on other’s people’s drama!


Let Your Success Be Everyone’s Success

Don’t make it about you and your profit.

No doubt about it, Jack Ma is a successful guy. He is worth $50.6 billion and yet, is described as being humble, down to earth and approachable. That’s something one doesn’t hear of every day.

His main purpose from the beginning was to change the lives of his consumers for the better. Most e-commerce sites are there purely to generate a profit, but Ma’s approach was to have a successful and profitable site for retailers and to ensure that the customers were happy and being offered items that would improve their lives.

Money is the by-product for Ma. The real wealth for him is seeing his customers happy and businesses doing well.


Don’t Let Your Beginnings, However Humble, Dictate Your Future Success

Write those words down Aluxers, because they’re important. Jack Ma came from nothing. He wasn’t overly bright, he didn’t get into Harvard, despite trying 10 times! He didn’t get a job at KFC, and he was the only one out of 24 people who wasn’t hired and he doesn’t know sh*t about tech… well, he knows enough… but he hires the right people who do know their stuff and that’s why it works.

He is resilient. And he truly believes that your hardiness, spirit and grit will be the determining factor between succeeding and failing.

So, when an opportunity comes your way – give it your best shot. At least you can look back and say with 100% conviction, you gave it your all.


Practice Ethical Business Practices

With 60-million transactions taking place every day, there is certainly room for unethical behavior somewhere in between all that cash flow – but Jack Ma is not about that life.

Alibaba, and sister companies, TMall and Taobao are behind anti-piracy laws all the way. Pirated goods are not allowed to be sold on their platforms and they have deleted over 370-million product listings and assisted authorities arrest more than 400 illegal traders on their sites.

Each seller is subjected to a trustworthiness rating system, providing the buyer complete transparency with each transaction.

As he puts it, “Today, making money is very simple. But making sustainable money while being responsible to the society and improving the world is very difficult.”


You’re Not Going to Be Able to Be Good at Everything

We’d all love to be good at everything, but it’s just not possible – even Jack Ma is not good at everything. He firmly believes that we should acknowledge our shortcomings, and hire someone to do the things we’re not able to.

But, don’t make the mistake of just hiring someone with the best qualifications. Because as Ma says, “You need the right people with you, not the best people.” So, perhaps you’re tossed between two people. One has more experience than the other, but the latter is a perfect match for your company – you totally opt for the latter.

You can always improve their skills or experience, but changing someone’s attitude can be pretty darn difficult. We’ll go into more depth about this important business lesson a little later.


Consider All Business Options

Having a dream or a goal is wonderful, but we all know that it’s not a straight line from point A to point B. The line to the end result looks more like a toddler was let loose on your wall with a permanent marker.

Jack Ma advises one not to get fixated with just one idea, because you could be missing out on even bigger, better opportunities. And sure, perhaps you started off wanting to become a doctor, and you’re worried that people will think you’re a failure if you change course and end up breeding quail eggs. Are you happy? Then that’s all that matters.

This Chinese billionaire encourages you to go way beyond your professional and financial ability. He believes you should identity all potential business opportunities, explore each one of them and what they need from you to be a success and that way, you are bound to find the perfect match for you.


Don’t Wait for the “Right Time”

There is no right time! The time is now. Jack Ma said, “When we started Alibaba, the market was really cold.” Yet, he and others involved in the start-up, persevered and they went from starting the small company in Ma’s apartment, to being one of the largest e-commerce sites in the world.

Ma suggests finding a problem, and working on a way to fix it.

Never stop learning. Never stop innovating. Don’t crumble when you get rejected and most importantly, take the first step.


When Getting a Team Together Don’t Hire the Best People Hire the Right People – Everything Else Will Fall Into Place

Jack Ma hires a team player over a Harvard graduate in most cases. Not to say an Ivy league graduate can’t be a team player, but their qualification doesn’t matter as much to him as their ability to work together and inspire each other.

He believes his success was only possible through the people that he has worked with. He seeks out people who share his vision and mission, that’s a point of someone character, not something you can learn at school.

He avoids people who are only interested in joining a company to climb the ranks, he avoids people who are self-serving and bully or disrespect their colleagues. He looks for people who will be a motivating factor to those around them and spur on the team.

Besides hiring tips, here are 15 Things You Should Know When Starting a Business.


Giving up Is Not an Option

Jack Ma doesn’t settle for failure; his career has more dips and round a bout’s than a rollercoaster. But one thing is sure, in all his failures he was honing his skill and growing into the business leader he is today.

Before Alibaba he had already benched two businesses namely Hope Translation and China Pages. In 1999, at a risky point in the dot-com era he started Alibaba. The original business focused on connecting Chinese factories to overseas markets. The business made good initial progress, until the bubble burst.

The media were not kind, and public opinion leant towards Jack Ma accepting another defeat. Even Ma himself considered returning to teaching.

Instead he drew strength from the struggles of the revolutionary Mao Zedong after the Long March, and started his own “rectification movement” to set Alibaba on a new course. He decided a shared purpose of Alibaba and defined the company’s values and started a process of pivoting.


Global Intelligence Is Key

GQ or Global Intelligence is a non-negotiable skill needed to exceed as a global leader today. This is something that Jack Ma has mastered. He is comfortable and adaptable to different cultures, places and spaces and is able to adapt his business practices to optimize his success.

If you want to increase your global intelligence it’s as easy as working on these 7 elements that will build up your GQ like a successful global leader. Be adaptable, be aware, and be curious. Show empathy, and alignment, partnered with collaboration and integration. With these skills you will be able to succeed in serving new markets the way Jack Ma has.


Look at Your Business From the Eyes of the Customer

Jack Ma stands apart from other tech giant founders due to the fact that he doesn’t have a background in coding and building the technology on the backend. He looks at his business from the front end, the user experience. As Ma puts it: “I’m not a tech guy, I’m looking at technology with the eyes of my customers—normal people’s eyes.”

This approach has led to a user friendly, practical and universally appealing online market place with a customer focus.


Employ a Lot of Women

In 2015 Jack Ma spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  There he gave up what he considers to be one of the most important ingredients in his recipe for success and it was women!

“One of secret sauces of Alibaba is we have a lot of women,” explained Ma in his address: 47 of his staff compliments are women, and 33 senior positions are held by women, much higher than the usual paltry figures we hear at big companies.

And what is the special flavor he thinks that women bring to the business? Well according to Ma, “Women think about others more than themselves.” This is a key value of Alibaba and how it is able to serve users.


Have a Purposeful Vision and Align Your Business to Your Values

Jack Ma has no small vision for his company, and he certainly doesn’t see Alibaba as a flash in the pan. He plans to have Alibaba around for 102 years. So, how do you plan for that kind of business longevity in an uncertain future, well Jack Ma has created a clear approach.

He calls it the Six Vein Spirit Sword, a clear set of values that he uses to build the strength his company needs to overcome the business challenges.

These 6 values that Ma holds in high regard are: Customers first, Teamwork, Embrace Change, Integrity, Passion, and Commitment.


Run Your Business With Future Generations in Mind

Jack Ma isn’t just about building up a business, but building forward. He has been known for several initiatives that are building up future generations. Before Alibaba became the megalith it is today, Ma had high school students working for him. He gave them equity in the business, which is part of his inclusive growth mindset which was part of the success of Alibaba as we know it today.

In 2015 he had a telephone conversation with then president of the USA, Barack Obama. He explained that 0.3% of the company’s total revenue, not profit, revenue, was ring fenced for younger generations to address environmental issues and had already been in operation since 2010. According to Ma this should be part of every business culture: “I do not want people to have deep pockets but shallow minds.”


Take Your Competitors Seriously – However Small They May Be

Business people tend to either be paralyzed by their competition or ignore them completely. But the truly successful, like Ma, will tell you that it’s important to take competitors seriously. This doesn’t mean that you should be intimidated by them, and worry about their every single move. However, if you are aware of what they are doing, you can continue to compete with them.

But not so fast, don’t just go off and price drop now, Jack Ma has a very different way that works when it comes to cleaning up after the competition. He focusses on competing on services and innovation. Price wars come and go, but service and innovation create customers loyalty, and that is golden.


Aluxers, what valuable lesson can you take away from Jack Ma? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.