Date
17 December 2017
Jack Ma's quirky personality has created headlines and fosters what one former employee calls a “slightly crazy” atmosphere at Alibaba. Photo: Bloomberg
Jack Ma's quirky personality has created headlines and fosters what one former employee calls a “slightly crazy” atmosphere at Alibaba. Photo: Bloomberg

Alibaba cult: Method in the madness

It accounts for more than three quarters of China’s retail ecommerce. It is an organisation where loyalty is prized and work is hard but fun. And its growth has been exponential over the past 15 years. 

All this is thanks to the visionary leadership of Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group. 

“Alibaba reminds me of the Chinese Communist Party in its early years,” said Li Zhihui, who used to work for Alibaba and has since written a book about the company’s management style. “They are a group of second-rate professionals doing a first-rate job.”

Both admirers and detractors alike credit the creativity and drive that got the company this far to Alibaba’s somewhat cult-like esprit de corps – and the quirky Ma.

The company is seeking a valuation of up to US$163 billion for its initial public offering in New York this month. A global roadshow will start with a lunch for hundreds of would-be investors in New York on Monday.

The price range of US$60-US$66 per share would make Alibaba the largest technology or internet IPO yet, according to the Financial Times.

In a letter to investors, Ma signalled that his messianic ambitions spread far beyond China. “ln the past decade, we measured ourselves by how much we changed China. In the future, we will be judged by how much progress we bring to the world,” he wrote.

The Chinese company’s 22,000 employees, known as Aliren or Ali fellows, appear to be fuelled by adrenalin and inspired by kung fu novels. They are encouraged to take kung fu nicknames.

Ma created Alibaba 15 years ago with friends in his apartment. Since then, his quirky personality has created headlines and fosters what one former employee calls a “slightly crazy” atmosphere at the company.

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RA/JL

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