Get All Access for $5/mo

Three Learnings from Jack Ma Starting out his career as a teacher is what made him into the world's renowned businessman he is today, believes Ma

By Komal Nathani

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


Almost all of us have this belief that the knowledge about technology, management and smartness are the more important ingredients of a successful entrepreneurship. But, Alibaba Group's executive chairman, Jack Ma did not have any of it when he started his business in 1995.

Starting out his career as a teacher is what made him into the world's renowned businessman he is today, believes Ma. "The only thing that made me into a successful businessman is my teaching background," Ma said on Thursday, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China.

Before starting Alibaba, Ma faced the rejections from 30 jobs and decided to start an Internet-based company. At the Forum, Ma said, that he did not know about technology and had no idea about how a business can be run, but he was confident about one quality of him as an English teacher, which was the ability to identify and cultivate talent.

Today, Ma is one of the richest men in the world with a net worth of $37 billion, according to 2018 Forbes List.

Last week, the 54-year-old announced his retirement from the Alibaba Group, which invited a lot of questions about his early retirement from business. Here are three learnings from one of the most inspirational entrepreneurs that will be there with all of us:

  • "I Don't Want to Die in Office'

At the Forum in China, when Ma was asked about his early retirement, he clearly said, "I do not want to die in office. I can die at the seaside, I would feel very happy. I prefer dying on the beach."

Speaking about his background as an English teacher, he added, "I used to be a teacher. That was not the trend in entrepreneurship. But with time, I had a very good team, but no good luck stay with you all the time. We need to extend the luck if you want to do so; you need to offer more opportunities to others, which mean you gave yourself more chances."

Confessing about his other desires and interests of life, he said, "You're born to see life and try different things as life is not just about work. A lot of things I got interested in the past 20 years, I feel pity that I did not have the time and capability of doing so. But today I have time and capability of developing these new things."

Ma refutes the logic of working until you're 80 and 90. "I don't think it's necessary to work till 80 or 90. Look at the other countries, entrepreneurs and business owners have white hair but to you know, it's a kind of step back, in today's times. I have more time to do for my interest areas," said Ma.

"I really want to show this to businesses in China and Asia. Never saying giving up and keep working and fighting for the age of 90 and much more," he said.

  • Why You Need to Spend Money on Your People

Investing money on people has marked the success of the billionaire, as he claims. At 2017 World Economic Forum, Ma spoke about why there is a need to spend money on your own people.

He said, "As a businessperson, my concern is always where the money comes from and where does it go." He also spoke about how an entrepreneur should spend money on building infrastructure or it can be put in to help white collar and blue collar workers. No matter what but one should spend on people. "Not everyone can go to Harvard University. We should spend money on the people who cannot afford education," he added.

  • "You Don't Have to be Smart to be Successful'

If you think that you need to be smart for being successful, you're wrong!

Sharing his journey, the 54-year-old entrepreneur said, "I know nothing about technology or management before starting a business. The thing is you don't have to know a lot of things. You have to find the people who are smarter than you are. For so many years, I always try to find people that are smarter than I am. And when you find so many smart people, then my job is to make sure that smart people can work together. And then if smart people can work together. It's easier the vision you believe. Because stupid people can work together easily, smart people can never work together."

Ma suggests that when you're 20-30-year-old, work in a company to learn as much as you can about work. When you're 30-40-year-old, if you want to do something yourself, just do it. You still can afford to lose or fail. But when you're 40-50-year-old, my suggestion is that you do things that you are good at. He adds, "Not do things that you find interesting, and I want to try something new. It's a bit dangerous more. When you're 50-60 years old, you should spend time training and developing young people, the next generation. When you're 60 years old, you should spend time with your grandchildren."

Komal Nathani

Former Correspondent, Entrepreneur Asia Pacific

A firm believer of hard work and patience. Love to cover stories that hold a potential to change the momentum of business world. Currently, a part of all-women web team of Entrepreneur’s Asia Pacific edition to jig the wheel of business journalism!


Why Entrepreneur Stands Against the PRO Act

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act could do lasting harm to the small-business and franchise community.

Business News

Why Does Taylor Swift Keep Stopping Her Shows Mid-Song? It's Actually a Great Lesson in Leadership.

Taylor Swift has paused nearly half of her shows while on the European leg of her Eras tour, and the reason is something leaders can learn from.


A Step-by-Step Guide To Building Your First Mobile App

If you have the right reasons, follow these 10 recommendations to getting your product to the public.