In this day and age online shopping is one of the most popular activities around the world. One of the largest sites where people constantly buy a variety of products is Alibaba, which is a website of Chinese origin that later transformed into an international platform. It was founded by Jack Ma and nowadays he is the face of the Chinese technology business. For Chinese entrepreneurs who just started their business this man is considered to be a legend, and a prime example of a successful leader. According to researchers, “Jack Ma has provided Alibaba Group’s most public presence during the company’s journey from apartment start-up to global e-commerce powerhouse” (Zhang & Zipser, 2019, para. 2). Therefore, it would be especially interesting to study his leadership style.
Jack Ma’s story is something that can inspire anyone since at the very beginning he did not have any capital to start business. After graduating, he was unsuccessful to find a job at thirty companies. Only Hangzhou Dianzi University hired him as an English teacher. Nevertheless, his ambition reached far more than working as a teacher. For this reason, while pursuing his educational career he also created a small translation agency. Unfortunately, the results did not meet his expectations; therefore, he decided to try resale business.
It was this time when Jack Ma got the opportunity to travel to the U.S. and discover the Internet. This discovery allowed him to start a new company in 1999, called Alibaba. It was one of the first Chinese trading platforms for small and medium-sized businesses. During this time the Internet in China was still gaining momentum, and the country was just getting ready to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Alibaba is a well-known retailer, one of the most popular Internet companies. The firm is headquartered in Hangzhou, China. It provides a platform for online markets and wholesale, as well as cloud computing and other services. The company has three main projects: the portal Alibaba.com, which processes sales between importers and exporters from more than 240 countries and regions (Kim, Zhang, & Zhang, 2016, p. 1).
Another important website is the Chinese portal 1688.com, which manages domestic trade in China. However, their most successful project is AliExpress.com, which allows small buyers to purchase small batches of goods at wholesale prices. Alibaba.com is believed to improve the domestic market since it provides a platform for Chinese enterprises. The company also helps in exporting Chinese products to the world market. The question, however, is how Jack Ma managed to expand his company; after all, a leadership style is one of the most essential factors when it comes to a company’s success.
First of all, it would be important to note that Jack Ma’s story is inspirational. He is a man who has struggled many times along the way. Mr. Ma had no success in finding a job or conducting business before creating Alibaba. Nevertheless, the company has gained popularity and in 2016 became one of the richest in the tech industry. Throughout his education and career, Jack Ma learned how to overcome failures, and he believes that they provide a chance to improve.
Another important factor is that he always wants to learn; after all, even though he had no such education, he has been trying to study primary management principles. In addition, by creating a climate during work Jack Ma decreased a disparity between the leader and his staff members. Moreover, as a leader he has not only always encouraged his workers, but also has been working extremely hard along with them. That is why he acquired a dedicated and hard-working community of those who believe in him. For this reason, he is a perfect role model for other entrepreneurs and his employees.
Another interesting fact about his business tactic is pointed out by the researchers. According to Tsui, Zhang and Chen (2017), “Alibaba’s traditionally responsible business approach as expressed for instance by Jack Ma’s projects to conserve China’s natural environment and to fight pollution could serve as an excellent example for exercising how to address critical social issues” (p. 216). Therefore, it would be safe to assume that he also promotes himself as someone who is aware of the current problems in the country and tries his best to improve the situation. It creates an image of a leader who cares about those around him.
Furthermore, Jack Ma is also charismatic with a sense of humor, who treats his employees as partners. Believing in teamwork is one of the essential factors that allowed Jack Ma to become an effective leader. It is evident that he realizes that there will not be any success without skilled colleagues. After all, in certain fields Jack Ma does not possess enough abilities. Therefore, he understands that in Alibaba he requires people who are skilled in those aspects. In his interviews, he always talks about how an employee should have superior technical skills to a leader, in other words, they should be better (Opineon, 2015). From this statement it could be assumed that rather than concentrating on his power as a leader, Jack Ma prioritizes the company’s success. That is why he even puts his employees above him.
Another outstanding characteristic that can be noticed from analyzing Mr. Ma is the manner with which he treats his subordinates. He believes that the most crucial part of conducting a successful business in the long term is investing in people. Thereby, by attempting to work in the team as a member and not as a manager, he has built up the atmosphere in his organization not to be too formal and intense. In addition, he also gives his employees confidence to take part in decision-making.
In addition, Jack Ma has developed an environment where everyone has to participate. Since he has education in teaching, which is why he knows how to educate and motivate others. Hence, he employs those skills to communicate with his staff members in order for them to identify and understand the corporate objectives. This process leads to better results since everyone is required to work for a particular goal which improves the performance of the company. In addition, he always encourages his staff to express their opinions and by means of communication attempts to create a positive atmosphere at the workplace.
Moreover, he is also known for giving the new generation a chance. The reason for this is fairly simple since at his age everyone rejected him. Due to this, he is open to the idea of giving younger people an opportunity to show their potential. This strategy is, in fact, also can be effective since the new generation might provide more innovative ideas that would work in a modern business environment.
Leadership style that is used by Jack Ma appears to be interesting. He can integrate several methods, which creates a perfect image of a leader who is capable of guiding employees. First of all, it would be important to note that he is a person with enough energy to motivate people. His workers are willing to work long hours which, at the same time, can reveal new abilities of the employees. Moreover, it provides a perfect opportunity for them to grow as professionals. Additionally, Jack Ma appears to be visionary when it comes to conducting business. He is smart and can quickly figure out how to start the company with a completely new idea before any other firm could implement it. Furthermore, he has advanced communication skills.
Before assigning any leadership theory to Jack Ma’s style, there are some factors that should be taken into account. Understanding them allows to fully comprehend all the nuances of his methods that provide the opportunity to run a successful company. First of all, he believes that leadership is not about the power of one person, but about working together as a team. Another belief of his is that the success of his team is the primary reason to work. Moreover, understanding local culture is also vital. Jack Ma believes in intelligence, that is why he tries to learn something new and encourages his workers to do so. He also appears to be optimistic even during difficult times since even then there is an opportunity for good returns. Jack Ma believes in hard work; rather than doing nothing, conducting some type of activity can provide results. Giving precedence to employees is also crucial because they are the main reason of the company’s success.
According to everything written above, it becomes evident that he is one of the prime examples in leadership in the business industry of the 21st century. His style of leading is new and unique, which can serve as an inspiration to others who want to start a firm. The information about his relationship with employees makes it apparent that his communication skills are remarkable. He works not as a main driving force behind the team; he is a part of it. Aside from being concerned about main tasks Jack Ma also cares about his employees. In other words, he is respectful of his workers because he sees them as partners. This relationship may be considered as quite unusual in the business industry since the most popular type of relationship between a boss and an underling is based on superiority. Moreover, it can be seen from the organization’s culture that Jack Ma has constructed an organizational environment that is not too strict on the workers since he expects them to work willingly.
Another important factor is that Jack Ma rejected the strict style of leadership because he believes it will certainly reduce employees’ freedom and ideas. The consequence of such style is that the opportunities for the company to grow will also be restricted. Therefore, he allows his employees to participate in the process of making important decisions. This stems from the idea that the best decisions come after a successful conversation between all the workers where everything is agreed upon. Dealing with conflict in the right way is also vital because in case where communication between the team members is impossible, no fruitful decisions can be made.
Researchers note that Jack Ma is also capable of handling crisis. For example, he manages to “actively utilize CEO personality, parasocial relationships, a sense of humor, and a social media communication style” (Kim, Zhang, & Zhang, 2016, p. 9). Furthermore, Jack Ma is a person with an open and creative mind. After all, his initiative of creating Alibaba, the first Chinese resale platform, was born due to his ability to see an innovative way to conduct business on the Internet. Moreover, his story and style of communication inspires workers to be more motivated.
In conclusion, it would appear that even despite his many failures, Jack Ma was able to not only create a successful company but also managed to promote it and get the best results. It is evident that such an outcome is the result of his hard work, charisma and leadership skills. He is a highly intelligent individual who encourages numerous people, particularly those who wish to become business owners, because in this decade the competition constantly rises. This industry is full of obstacles; nevertheless, by observing Jack Ma as a model of a successful leader many businesspersons can take inspiration from him.
However, even though his style appears to be something to strive for, there is always room for improvement; therefore, it would be useful to provide some recommendations. For example, there is an apparent need to reconsider working hours for the employees because extra workload can certainly create health problems and worsen their performance. It is evident that aside from making sure that his employees fulfill their working potential, a leader should take good care about their mental and physical wellbeing.
Otherwise workers can lose motivation and decrease the quality of performance. It would also be beneficial to continuing expanding his professional capabilities. It was previously mentioned that Jack Ma is visionary and charismatic, and he managed to create an international company without any particular knowledge in technologies. However, a good leader should also be aware of technological nuances of his business so he could make thoughtful decisions regarding production. Nevertheless, aside from this, Jack Ma is certainly a prime example of a successful business owner in this century, who is an ambitious, creative and great leader.
Kim, S., Zhang, X. A., & Zhang, B. W. (2016). Self-mocking crisis strategy on social media: Focusing on Alibaba chairman Jack Ma in China. Public Relations Review, 42(5), 903-912.
Tsui, A. S., Zhang, Y., & Chen, X. P. (2017). Its corporate cultural value system is the lifeline of Alibaba. In Leadership of Chinese Private Enterprises (pp. 201-222). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Zhang, D., & Zipser, D. (2019). Speak softly, make tough decisions: An interview with Alibaba Group chairman and CEO Daniel Zhang. The McKinsey Quarterly. Web.
Opineon. Jack Ma Speech on Leadership Skills – Alibaba CEO Speech 2015 HD 馬雲 [Video file]. Web.