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The Best Entrepreneurial Quotes from Jack Ma, the Richest Man in China

Wise words from the entrepreneurial genius and controversial figure that is Jack Ma.
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ILLUSTRATOR Bianca Papa
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Today marks Jack Ma’s 56th birthday. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Ma is the richest man in China and cofounder of the billion-dollar e-commerce group Alibaba. He’s currently the 18th wealthiest person in the world with a net worth of $56.4 billion, as of September 9.

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He might be one of the most famous businessmen in the world now, but before he got his big break with Alibaba, Ma was no stranger to failure. He applied for Harvard Business School ten times, and was rejected… ten times. When he went hunting for a job, he applied to 30 companies, and received 30 rejections in return. That was until the early ‘90s when he discovered something that would change the face of the world: the internet. Ma got his start in tech building websites for Chinese companies back in the days of dial-up and snail-slow internet speeds.

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It wasn’t until 1999 that Alibaba was born through the efforts of Ma and 17 of his friends. Alibaba took off with a running start with a $25 million investment from Goldman Sachs and SoftBank. Soon enough, it grew exponentially, becoming what it is now: one of the world’s largest retailers, digital companies, and, AI companies.

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Under Ma’s leadership, Alibaba Group went on to add Taobao Marketplace, Alipay, Ali Mama, and Lynx to its arsenal. Alibaba is now worth a whopping $270 billion.

Just when Alibaba, with Jack Ma, was at its peak, Ma chose to walk away. He stepped down as executive chairman in 2019, setting his sights on another field apart from e-commerce he excels at—philanthropy. He’s been recognized as a “hero of philanthropy” by Forbes, and the Jack Ma Foundation is still at the forefront of donations and relief aid in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

His meteoric rise is almost textbook, and the media around the world are quick to praise the self-made billionaire. But Jack Ma is not without controversies and criticism, particularly his ties with the Communist Party of China. In 2018, the world was shocked to find out that Ma is a member of the CPC. It’s quite a puzzle considering the fact that he’s a vocal supporter of open market systems, and his huge net worth was made possible thanks to capitalism.

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While he’s never been a particularly political person, Ma showed his political leanings when he refused to send COVID-19 aid to countries tied to Taiwan, like Haiti and Honduras. He also endorses China’s “966” work culture, which consists of 12-hour work days for six days a week, causing much outrage.

To say he’s a complicated figure would be an understatement. But perhaps his complex actions and beliefs are factors in his status as a man to be admired in the business bubble.

Here are the best quotes from the entrepreneurial genius and controversial figure that is Jack Ma.

On Leadership

"Leadership is your instinct, then it's your training. Leaders are always positive, they never complain."

"A leader should incentivize, but not with money. You give trust, respect, appreciation, and correct, heartfelt advice."

"A good boss is better than a good company."

"Intelligent people need a fool to lead them. When the team's all a bunch of scientists, it is best to have a peasant lead the way. His way of thinking is different. It's easier to win if you have people seeing things from different perspectives."

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"I always find people smarter than I am. Then my job is to make sure smart people can work together. Stupid people can work together easily, smart people can't."

“A leader should have higher grit and tenacity, and be able to endure what the employees can’t.”

On Entrepreneurship

"As entrepreneurs, if you're not optimistic, you're in trouble. So the people I choose, they have to be optimistic."

"Players should never fight. A real businessman or entrepreneur has no enemies. Once he understands this, the sky's the limit."

"When you are small, you have to be very focused and rely on your brain, not your strength."

“You should learn from your competitor, but never copy. Copy and you die.”

“Opportunity lies in the place where the complaints are.”

On Managing People

"I do everything to make sure my customer is happy, my employee is happy, society is healthy. I would focus on customers, I would focus on not making money, I would focus on making values."

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"I know nothing about technology, I know nothing about marketing, I know nothing about (the legal) stuff. I only know about people."

"Hire as many young people as possible, because they are never scared. We make wrong decisions, we make the wrong policies, we kill their future. So trust the young people. Trust the small business. Build (an) environment, build the ecosystem for them. This is our future."

On Work-Life Balance

“I come to this world not to work, but to enjoy this life. I don't want to die in my office, I want to die on the beaches."

"I always tell myself that we are born here not to work, but to enjoy life. We are here to make things better for one another."

"In my life, it's not how much we've achieved, it's how much we've gone through the tough days."

On Money and Success

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

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“When we have money, we start making mistakes.”

"It doesn't matter if I failed. At least I passed the concept on to others. Even if I don't succeed, someone will succeed."

"Instead of learning from other people's success, learn from their mistakes. Most of the people who fail share common reasons (to fail), whereas success can be attributed to various different kinds of reasons."

On the Government

“If the customer loves you, the government will have to love you.”

“Never ever do business with the government. Be in love with them, never marry them.”

On Motivation

“No matter how tough the chase is, you should always have the dream you saw on the first day. It’ll keep you motivated and rescue you (from any weak thoughts).”

On His Personal Philosophy

"Philanthropy is not about helping others, it's about helping yourself. When you change, the world changes."

“I don’t want to be liked. I want to be respected.”

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Anri Ichimura
Staff Writer, Esquire Philippines
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