Media describes him as an “Imp of a man” with sunken cheekbones, tussled hair and a mischievous grin. A masterful public speaker , rejected multiple times by Harvard ,his favorite movie is Forrest Gump , his surname “Ma” is the same as the Chinese word for horse. Yes you got it right its Jack Ma. Duncan Clark’s engaging biography is about Jack Ma as much as it is about Alibaba; indeed you can’t mention one without thinking of the other.
Born in 1964 to a photographer and a factory worker, Ma grew up a mediocre student in the city of Hangzhou. About the only thing that set Ma apart was learning English, which he would practice by speaking to tourists passing through his hometown. One of these tourists, a vacationing Australian Communist, became a generous benefactor and that changed the life of Jack Ma.
The book covers Jack’s key business relationships in detail, how he along with investors companies like SoftBank, Goldman Sachs and Yahoo built Alibaba. How he moved along with government on the internet revolution. His famous quote “Never, ever do business with government. Love them. Don’t marry them. “.
In the most fascinating chapter of the book, we read about Alibaba’s battle with eBay. ” Ebay may be a shark in the ocean, but I’m a crocodile in the Yangtze River. If we fight in the ocean, we lose, but if we fight in the river, we win” , that is Jack Ma’s view on this battle. EBay goes on to make one tactical blunder after another and that is clearly depicted in the book. Ebays China adventure , lasting from 2003 to 2006, is today a case study in how not to go about managing a business in a distant market.
All in all, for a sense of how, and how impactful China and Alibaba have become, and for a true lesson in entrepreneurship, read this book.