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The trade secrets of Jack Ma: ‘The blind man riding on the back of a blind tiger’

Zafar Anjum | Sept. 25, 2014
The incredible story of Jack Ma, who like the magical name of his company Alibaba, has magically risen from humble beginnings to become the richest man in China.

-         In early 2000s, Alibaba saw the worst of times in its journey so far. The company, like many other tech companies, reached the brink of bankruptcy during the dotcom crash. A turnaround effort by the then company COO Savio Kwan saved it-Alibaba was burning $2 million per month. It had less than $10 million in the bank. Kwan came from General Electric, so he went into staff reduction with gusto. The result? The company's burn rate of expenses came down by 75 percent. The company struggled on for a few years.

-         In 2003, Ma launched Taobao (Hidden Treasure), a Chinese auction site, competing with eBay. By 2007, Taobao had a market share of over 80 percent in China, pulling in $2.2 billion in transactions. It trounced eBay in the Chinese turf.

-         In 2005, Yahoo! paid $1 billion for a 40 percent stake in Alibaba. Yahoo! China's management control was passed over to Ma's company. Yahoo! China was not doing well at that time and Ma's involvement was the best shot to turn the company around. The relationship, struck over a golf course, was to pay well for both Yahoo! and Alibaba.

-         In November 2007, a portion of Alibaba was made public. At the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Alibaba's IPO raised $1.5 billion.

-         In September 2014, Alibaba's listing at the NYSE became the largest stock offer in history. It has made Jack Ma China's richest person with a fortune of $25 billion. Ma reaped more than $800 million selling shares in the company as Alibaba listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The value of his remaining stake of 7.8 percent surged to more than $17 billion the week after the IPO.


[1] Rebecca A. Fannin, Silicon Dragon-How China is Wining the Tech Race, McGraw Hill, 2008.



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