Alibaba founder Jack Ma talks about China’s slowdown, finding successor

(From Nikkei Asian Review)

HANGZHOU, China — Alibaba Group Holding commands a vast share of China’s rapidly expanding online retail market. The company presents a serious challenge to foreign companies trying to find a foothold in China’s consumer market.

Jack Ma Yun (Photo by Tamako Sado)

Jack Ma Yun (Photo by Tamako Sado)

The company remains something of a mystery. In an interview with The Nikkei, Jack Ma Yun, founder and chairman of the e-commerce leader, talked frankly about the company’s relationship with the Chinese government and finding someone to succeed him.

Q: Alibaba started out with a staff of 18 in 1999. Your company has become a giant in the Internet retailing business, hasn’t it?

A: Alibaba has become a big company compared with 15 years ago, but we are still a small company compared with where we will be 15 years from now. We have studied two organizations that endure for a long time. One is churches, the other is universities. Both retain strong values, and cultures, and empower others. So we studied how they sustain themselves. NGO(Nongovernmental organizations) are nonprofits, but we are a for-profit organization — an organization that helps small business and empowers innovation will be an organization we can believe in.

In that way, we will be able to live longer and healthy. Of course, there is a lot of challenges. Normally, big companies are no match for small companies in terms of speed and innovation because when you have lots of rules to manage, it’s difficult to innovate.

But Alibaba is not a company that is run by rules. We focus on managing the company by culture. Big companies have problems in innovation. That’s very natural. But for us, we are always changing our structure; we always improve our culture to make sure that we keep our innovative spirit and culture. Alibaba believes that our size enables small businesses to be more creative.

Q: What is your take on China’s recent slowdown?

A: It’s a golden time for China. Many big companies grow in crises. In the U.S. there are hundreds of big companies, like IBM, Cisco Systems, Microsoft. In Japan, Europe, there are like 30 or 40 of that size. In China, there are almost none, apart from the SOE(state-owned enterprises). In the private sector, we might be in the top one or two. So China — with the world’s second-largest economy — we definitely should have 30-40 companies of that size. Since we are the first, the world is not ready — China is not ready, we are not ready — to accept it when such a giant suddenly appears. In the next three to five years, people will get used to it. Not only Alibaba, but lots of big companies will be coming up in 10-20 years. The market is there. Read more



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