The founder of Alibaba recently sat down with Beijing News at the 3rd Zhejiang Entrepreneurs’ Convention in Hangzhou, in South China, to discuss the future of Alibaba and the impact of his empire.
Ma was born in Hangzhou, Zhejiang in 1964 and founded Alibaba in 1999. After 2003, he founded Taobao, Alipay and T-mall. Ma was one of China’s earliest internet entrepreneurs to be involved in the B2B and B2C business models. Last September, Alibaba issued its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. The company made history for the largest IPO in the U.S. stock market at the time, raising USD 29.7 billion. The IPO pushed Ma to the top of the 2014 Forbes China Rich List. He’s currently the second richest man in China, according to this year’s Forbes China Rich List.
Below is an excerpt of the interview with Jack Ma.
Why did you participate in the previous entrepreneur meeting with Premier Li Keqiang?
Ma: It’s my responsibility as an entrepreneur to speak to the government about our thoughts on the economy. Because the government looks after social development and businessmen often deal with economic activities, it’s our job to tell officials what the economic situation is.
I want to represent my clients and all those thousands of SMEs (small medium enterprises), which are a huge part of China’s economy, to talk about their views on the economic environment. I think entrepreneurs should be scientists of economic activity.
Is it a conflict of interest for you to attend the meeting? People may think that you would use this opportunity to gain more benefits for Alibaba from top officials.
Ma: Every time I have an exchange with the government during the convention, I speak for the small and medium enterprises and startups. It’s a principle that enterprises should set up boundaries and communication with the government. I said this when I founded my company – a company won’t succeed if it is constantly seeking resources and benefits from the government. Companies should be thinking about how to make a profit from the market.
Also, the government and enterprises should respect each other. Each entity should do their part well. For instance, besides creating jobs, an enterprise should pay taxes and take good care of its employees and clients.
Why did Alibaba invest in the sports sector, like soccer, and the entertainment business, like TV and movies? What are your plans for the company in the next 10 years?
Ma: Entertainment is a very important business and unlike e-commerce, it doesn’t require logistics like delivery. If entertainment and sports contribute to the GDP, that’s how we can sustain China’s economy. If these two sectors account for a certain portion, then the country will be even stronger.
In the next decade, we’ll focus on the “health and happiness” of Chinese people. For instance, smog is a potential health hazard. We pay a heavy price for today’s pollution. To solve this problem, we invested heavily in AliHealth, a health management app.
Are there any sectors Alibaba does not want to get involved in?
Ma: We won’t get involved with real estate. In fact, there are many sectors Alibaba won’t do. We want to focus on the ecosystem of small businesses. We never said Alibaba is purely an e-commerce company. We’d like to help others do e-commerce. For instance, Alibaba never trades our own products. Instead, we manage and facilitate other merchants.
What’s your lifestyle like? Have you ever bought anything from Taobao? Some have said that you’ve changed the lifestyles of many, what do you think of that?
Ma: I haven’t counted. How many pieces of clothing can I wear at once? How many bowls of rice can I eat? How many beds do I need? I have never bought anything from Taobao. To tell you the truth, I don’t have the time and energy to shop online.
I don’t change people’s lifestyles on purpose. But many youngsters have adapted to this lifestyle. I’m very happy that Alibaba has changed the lives of young Chinese people. We hope Chinese youngsters will be optimistic about the future. To measure Alibaba’s success, we still need to look at Alibaba’s influence on the world in the next 20 to 30 years. I wouldn’t dare to think about it if I was on my own, but now that we have 34,000 employees, I think we can think about how we can change the world.