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Who Is Jack Ma? Why the Billionaire Says Alibaba Isn't the Chinese Amazon

The founder of the global eCommerce giant explained his business philosophy at the World Economic Forum.

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Though they are both global eCommerce companies that were founded in the 1990s and have names that begin with the letter A, Chinese billionaire Jack Ma Yun wants you to know that's all Alibaba and Amazon have in common.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images
Drew Angerer | Getty Images Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba Group.

In a conversation at the World Economic Forum, the Alibaba founder and former executive chairman explained where he and Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos differ in their approaches to running their companies.

He told interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin that there is no one right business model for digital commerce - if that was the case, the world would be a boring place. But Mr. Ma said that no matter what model you follow, you should believe in the work you are doing.

Related: By the Numbers: Amazon vs. Alibaba (Infographic)

When asked about Amazon's apparent goal to own its entire supply chain, from servers to warehouses to delivery vehicles, Ma said that wasn't the path he saw for Alibaba. He said he viewed Amazon as an empire, and Alibaba as an ecosystem.

"We want to empower others to sell, to service, to make sure that other people are more powerful than us," he said. "Making sure that with our technology and innovation, our partners and 10 billion small-business sellers, they can compete with Microsoft and IBM. ... We think, using our technology, we can make every company become Amazon." Keep scrolling to learn more about Jack Ma.

Who Is Alibaba founder Jack Ma?

In Jack Ma's youth, he studied the English language, and after failing the entrance exam to the Hangzhou Teachers College, now called Hangzhou Normal University, twice, he was eventually admitted and graduated from the school, per Britannica. After struggling to find work, he found himself working on behalf of the Chinese government in the United States. With the rise of the internet, Ma saw a void in the market for resources about China and created the China Pages. After building websites for several Chinese companies, he eventually went off on his own to create his e-commerce website Alibaba.

His Alibaba stock broke records in 2014 with his IPO selling for $25 billion, which is still the largest global IPO ever to date. In 2016, author Duncan Clark released his book Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built, unpacking his career and his brand's global impact. 

What Is Jack Ma's Net Worth?

Alibaba's Jack Ma not only made waves in the media for his advancements in digital commerce, but for the riches his hard work brought him. In 2014 his net worth was estimated to be a whopping 21.8 billion, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index, making him the richest man in China at the time.

Despite stepping down as executive chairman in September 2019, per Forbes, and handing the reins to CEO Daniel Zhang, his fortune only continued to grow. In 2021 he had an estimated net worth of $48.4 billion, ranking in 26th place in the "2021 Forbes Global Rich List," however, his net worth has continued to fluctuate, and as of May 2022, his fortune is estimated to be $23.6 billion.

Despite the slight drop in his value, he's still one of the top five richest people in China, behind Ma Huateng, founder of tech giant Tencent. Asides from his work in tech, he also founded the Jack Ma Foundation in 2014, and he has a stake in the Chinese media company Huayi Brothers.

In addition to his work on Alibaba Group Holding, he also founded Ant Financial, now known as Ant Group or AliPay, a division of Alibaba Group that owns the largest digital payment platform in China. In October 2020, the company was set to raise the world's largest IPO, but according to the Wall Street Journal, the Chinese Communist Party leader President Xi Jinping put a halt to the transaction after Ma's criticism of Chinese regulators at the annual People's Bank of China financial markets forum. According to the outlet, the company was set to be transformed into a financial holdings company, overseen by the Chinese government.

Where Is Jack Ma?

After Chinese authorities stepped in to regulate Ant Financial, the Financial Times reported that Ma hadn't been seen in the public view since. Following fears of forced disappearance, he made his first public appearance since the dispute in January 2021 during a video call for a charity event. He has reportedly been seen a handful of times thereafter.

He most recently made headlines after selling his shares of the digital payment system Paytm E-commerce, the parent company of Paytm Mall, a retail platform.

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