Making it big a la Jack Ma

/ 05:12 AM October 29, 2017

Jack Ma came, spoke and conquered, with students and businesspersons alike hanging on to his every word. The man behind the Alibaba Group, one of the world’s most successful businessmen with a net worth of over $38 billion, motivated millennials and more with words of wisdom pithy and profound, simple and sage.

To young people often criticized for being unwilling to confront challenges in school or in the workplace, he said: “Think about what you are willing to give up. That’s my first advice.” He added: “Think about it — how many years do you want [to invest toward] reaching that goal? That’s my second advice.”


Ma spoke last week at a forum attended by business leaders and students of De La Salle University, which conferred on him an honorary doctorate in technopreneurship. It’s hardly a surprise for one who has gone from working at a KFC to charting the course of an internet giant like Alibaba.

What account for his success? One virtue is candor. Asked about the speed of the internet in the Philippines, and in the presence of officials of the country’s top telcos, he stated the obvious: “It’s no good. I encourage the government, entrepreneurs, everybody to work together to improve the speed and coverage of the internet.” Indeed. Despite Filipinos’ known obsession with the internet and mobile gadgets, the Philippines has ranked a horrible 94th out of 121 countries in the Speedtest Global Index, notably lagging behind its Southeast Asian neighbors Singapore, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.


Ma spoke about how the internet will become the primary platform for business in the future, predicting that 80 percent of global business will soon be done online. Yet, for someone who works with technology 24/7, he believes “it is not the technology that changes the world but the dream behind that technology.” In short, it’s the people that’s important.

Which is why it’s important to choose the right members to form your team: “You should not find the best people, you should find the right people. Make the right people the best people.” And dealing with people begins with yourself “Be simple. Stay foolish. No matter what, just continue,” he said. “Do not complain about others. Complain only about yourself.”

These wise words come at a time when Filipinos need to hear them. The Philippines “has the best heart of service in the world,” he acknowledged. “It takes generations to build, and Filipinos have great capabilities no one in the world has.”

But more young people are entering the workforce than ever before. As many as 692,602 fresh graduates will be seeking job opportunities after finishing school in 2017, according to the Commission on Higher Education. Also consider that there are now 11 million unemployed Filipinos. (But there are encouraging signs. The unemployment rate was 5.7 percent in April 2017, an improvement over the previous year’s 6.1 percent.)

A highlight in Ma’s success story is his putting his money where his heart is. He has been a passionate advocate of nurturing businesses, particularly during times of economic peril. In 2010 he announced that Alibaba would donate a percentage of its annual revenue to projects aimed at protecting the quality of air and water. And he continues to be a big believer in young people, who, he said, “are never scared of the future.”

He urged young people going out into the world to take risks and not be afraid to learn from the mistakes of others. In that way, he said, they will know “how to face these [mistakes] when they come.”

Significantly, Ma emphasized the importance of treating other people well. “If you want to be successful, have great EQ (emotional quotient), because EQ knows how to work with people… No matter how smart you are, if you don’t know how to work with people, your dreams will just be dreams.”


There’s a lesson looming large in Jack Ma’s story, something both old and new, something that has been said before in many other ways, at once novel and familiar. And it’s essentially this: To succeed in life, one must never forget to be a good human being.

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TAGS: Alibaba Group, Inquirer editorial, Jack Ma
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