CEO Interviews at Fortune Global Forum: Jack Ma

Post by
Scott Francis

One of the highlights of the Fortune Global Forum were the really fantastic interviews with the CEOs of amazing companies.? Even for CEOs, these are heroes that are looked up to in large part.? Each one of them had a way of distilling really important initiatives in their companies down to *very* simple phrasing that anyone could remember.? This is part of a series of short posts based on my notes in each session:

Jack Ma, Alibaba

The first interview with Jack Ma was my first opportunity to listen to him live, rather than on television.? And he immediately shared a few nuggets that I took with me:

  • Globalization has benefited "maybe" 10% of companies historically.? Jack wants to improve it and create benefits for many more companies - to make the benefits of globalization available to any company.
  • If globalization has increased inequality over the last few decades... Can globalization also reduce inequality?
  • Jack makes the argument that economic growth and stability in governance go together. He argues that capitalism thrives when the governance is stable - that stability is more important than "democracy" for the purposes of economic development.? It's an interesting argument, and one that is hard to disprove given the evidence in China.
  • Jack makes the argument that "innovation" is not actually about disruption - it is about problem solving - and this is why stability and innovation are not in conflict.?? This is counter to prevailing canon in Silicon Valley.
  • Jack consistently emphasized that he was investing in technology for everyone's benefit.? But in this interview format, I couldn't discern whether that meant that he would be donating the fruits of R&D to the world, or making the results of that R&D investment available on the Alibaba platform.? One approach is both altruistic and democratizing and the other is potentially only democratizing
  • Trudeau says Canada is a good place to do business, and in the virtual economy, Alibaba is a GREAT place to do business.
  • He also voiced the opinion that he wanted to die on the beach, not in the office.? Jack might have been the only exec I heard who didn't advocate for the 996 work life.

Jack was asked what it takes to succeed in China, and it is hard to argue with his list:

  • Respect the culture, and market, and clients
  • Bring strong leaders, with great entrepreneurship instincts
  • Have patience - keeping in mind that Starbucks has been in China for 18 years and for 9 years it was "a mess" - but the least 9 years have been great.

Great lessons to learn from Jack Ma's experience.

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