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Leadership and Organization Culture; An Entrepreneurial Analysis Jack Ma Case Study

Introduction

            Successful entrepreneurs are often perceived as people who have extraordinary abilities to maneuver through the unpredictable markets and achieve what most individuals desire. However, after a critical analysis of the operations of successful people, several uncommon features can be identified (Watkins & Kaufman, 2012). The odd behaviors are the elements of success. For instance, successful people such as Jack Ma, Jeff Bezos, or Bill Gates have certain features in common. All of them have a unique leadership style, management, and social interactions. Jack Ma is the founder of Alibaba Company based in China (Kalyani, 2008). His attributes in entrepreneurship through supporting upcoming business owners, resourceful inspiration quotes, and philanthropic works have earned him a good reputation in the world. He has also assumed some unique leadership styles and organization cultures.

Background information

            Jack Ma was born in 1964 in China and has developed his various interests in politics, investments, and philanthropy. He is the founder of the Alibaba group, one of the largest e-commerce business in the world (Kalyani, 2008). He started schooling at a tender age, particularly the English language.

Education

            He learned grammar at Hangzhou International Hotel through interaction with tourists for nine years. It took Jack Ma four years to pass a college entry exam offered per year in China. He studied at Hangzhou Normal University, initially Hangzhou Teachers Institute (Kalyani, 2008). He finished school in 1988 and acquired a Bachelor of Art in English. He later got a teaching job at Hangzhou Dianzi University as a lecturer in the English language. The Harvard Business School rejected his applications over nine times.

Business career

            His business ideas were stimulated by numerous job rejection he received. He recalls applying for a job at KFC after been established in China and got rejected (Kalyani, 2008). The applicants were twenty-four; only twenty-three were accepted, leaving Ma out.

            His first business attempt was in 1994; news of the internet had spread in China. Jack Ma took this opportunity and started his company called Hangzhou Haibo Translation Agency. He was introduced to the internet by a friend he traveled with to the United States in 1995 (Stevan, 2018). He searched for information related to China but could find none. Thus they came up with an idea of creating a website that will hold information about his country. After launching this website, Ma received mails from various investors who wanted to speak to him, thus giving him an idea of the usefulness of the internet. In 1995, Ma and his friend. He Yibing started their first office, which was expanded by Ma to a second one (Rebecca, 2015). A domain, chinapages.com, was registered in the United States in the same year. The company was successful, by the end of three years in operations, 5 Million Yuan and equitant of USD800,000 had been earned.

            The success of their websites helped them to start building various websites for companies in China and the United States. After this success, he got a job with China International Electronic Commerce Centre in the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation but left the position in 1999 to focus on creating a company with the help of friends (Rebecca, 2015). In the same year, he got assistance from friends and established Alibaba Company. The company connects various businesses in the marketplace. This company was started with an initial investment of 500,000 Yuan. The company became successful in 2000 after winning $25 million in foreign capital investments. The investment was awarded by the World Trade Organization to help Small and Medium Enterprises in China to prosper in e-commerce (Rebecca, 2015). By 2003, the passion for improving on the ecommerce system by Jack Ma made him open Alipay, Lync, Ali Mama, and Taobao Marketplace. The Taobao company later received an offer of purchase by eBay, which was declined after Yahoo accepted to support the company with $1 billion worth of investment.

            The company, in 2014, was able to raise $25 billion Initial Public Offering on New York Stock Exchange. This built the reputation of the company to a worldwide level. The public offering was the largest in the U.S history (Shao, 2014). Ma has chaired the Alibaba Group. The Group has nine subsidiaries, namely Taobao Marketplace, Alibaba.com, Alibaba Cloud Computing, eTao, Alipay, AliExpress.com, Juhuasuan, and 1688.com.

Achievements

            The Company has transacted over 1 trillion Yuan by 2012. Jack Ma, the CEO of Alibaba, owns Chateau Guerry, Chateau de Sours, Chateau Perenne in Cotes de Bourg, Bordeaux, and Blaye, respectively (Shao, 2014). As the CEO, he has met with President Donald Trump in 2017 to discuss on creating 1 million jobs in the United States after the company was interested in establishing operations in the country. In the same year, Jack Ma partnered with Sir Li Ka-Shing to provide digital wallet services in China.

            He is not a mean leader as in 2018 September, he announced stepping down from leading his company and indicated that Daniel Zhang would take over as chairman (Ignatius, 2019). However, there were speculations that he had been pressured to step down the Government of China. He later cleared the air by indicating that his interest in philanthropy has made him relinquish his position.           

Net worth

            Jack Ma owns about 5.3% of Alibaba, and this indicates that his wealth will continue to increase. The reports of 2019 suggest that Ma has a net worth of $38.7 billion (Brian, 2019). He is ranked position 19 in the list of the wealthiest people in the world. He has made numerous private and public investments in various countries around the globe. 

Activities out of work

Interests

            Jack Ma has some love for music; in his birthday party in 2017, he astonished people through his exceptional performance of Michael Jackson’s song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight (Joe, 2017).” He entertained people while wearing a heavy metal lead.

            In the entertainment career, he has made a special appearance. In 2017, he participated in a short Kung fu film title, Gong Shou Dao. This film was produced together with Double 11 Shopping Carnival. According to Joe (2017), Jack Ma was involved with singing festivals where he performed dances.

Philanthropy

            The Alibaba CEO founded the Jack Ma Foundation to assist the less fortunate in the community. This organization was the main reason Ma decided to step down from chairing Alibaba Group and concentrate on the activities of giving back to his society (Ignatius, 2019). The foundation is focused on environmental issues, education enhancement and improvements, and health sectors (Braun, 2010). The foundation has made several appearances in public. In 2008, the charity wing of Alibaba contributed $808,000 to Sichuan earthquake victims. He was made a trustee in 2009 of the Nature Conservancy Program of China and later included in the organization’s global Board of Directors.

            The Alibaba Hong Kong Young Entrepreneurs Foundation was launched by the Alibaba Company to facilitate support to young and upcoming business owners. Also, the Nepal earthquake of 2009 was left several victims with no homes, Alibaba Company through Jack Ma built 1,000 houses (Ignatius, 2019). The CEO also helped in raising some amount of money to help in rebuilding some 9,000 homes for the Nepal earthquake victims. African entrepreneurs have started to benefit from the philanthropic activities of Jack Ma. In 2019, Netpreneur Initiative was launched by Alibaba Foundation to give a cash prize of $1 million to ten entrepreneurs from Africa (Brian, 2019). In the same year, the foundation launched some funding of $14.6 million to assist education programs in Tibet.

Quotes on leadership

            There are numerous quotes recorded from some of the speeches of Jack Ma in various forums on leadership and entrepreneurship. Some of the quotes are collected from social media pages and personal accounts (Yeng, 2018). Jack Ma is among the world’s most influential in terms of motivational speaking and actions. His inspirational quotes have been used in various events to steer positivity and growth.

            In matters of leadership, Jack Ma has recorded a variety of sayings that have inspired leaders and facilitated the effective management of an organization.

            In one occasion, Jack Ma indicated, “30% of all the people will never believe you. Do not allow your colleagues and employees to work for you. Instead, let them work for a common goal (Yeng, 2018).” This quote has inspired the individuals who pool resources together for a basic course. In this case, organization culture is developed where every employee identifies their responsibility as a duty to fulfill the obligations of achieving the organization’s goals (Yeng, 2018). In this case, a positive working environment will be established as each person is determined to make the company’s goals and not working to please the management or any other staff.

            In another quote, Jack Ma indicates that “as a leader, it is important to let your employees come to work with a smile (Yeng, 2018).” Reporting to work while wearing a smiling face is not the case in most organizations; this is due to the failure of establishing a culture where each employee is valued no matter their responsibility in the company. This culture helps in creating a strong bond between a business leader and the employees (Yeng, 2018). Engaging all the employees in the process of management and decision making has helped in cultivating the feeling of been valued. In this case, an employee will always be willing to report to work while smiling.

            Also, during the World Trade Forum, Ma noted that “Customers should always come first, employees second and finally the shareholder (Yeng, 2018).” When explaining this quote, Ma indicated that the customers are the backbone of any company. A slight mistake of mistreating a single customer has its repercussions in public image and reputation. The organization has to develop a culture where a customer always feels valued, and thus, they are more than willing to return for the products and services (Shao, 2014). Proper treatment of customers provides the security of the employees’ job. On the other hand, the employees should be treated well since they are part of the team that ensures customer satisfaction.

Web links on Jack Ma’s interviews

Summary of the interviews

Interview with Charlie Rose

            In the first interview, Rose was interested in understanding how Jack Ma has managed to elevate the company to a global level. Jack Ma indicated that the only way for growing a company is through learning and welcoming criticism (Elena, 2019). The culture of a leader to welcome critics in the management has helped Ma in shaping his leadership style. He notes that an organization that listens to the views from the public and integrate them with the comments from the employees can handle changes in the market, such as demand and shifting in the technological advancement. A business leader able to integrate the comments of the customers and other employees in leadership creates a culture of inclusion (Shao, 2014). In this case, all employees will feel valued and appreciated as their views are used in the management process. An organization where putting the opinions of the customers first become creates a culture of valuing the clients, thus attracting them. 

            Also, the Alibaba CEO indicates that the growth of his company doesn’t need to be through treating all the competitors even though small as giants. Also, in the case of a giant competitor, one should consider themselves as weaklings (Elena, 2019). Treating small competitors as giants is essential in maintaining the focus needed in the market. It reduces the moment of relaxing as there are no significant threats. In such a case where a company relaxes, services are expected to go down in quality, and this may result in the growth of the small company, thus overtake ones’ business.

            On the other hand, considering ones’ company as a weakling is essential in pooling more resources together to help in competing with large companies (Shao, 2014). In this case, one will not realize until they observe that they had achieved the goals and raised to a rank that can be compared with the giant company. The culture developed by a business leader to focus in achieving the goals rather than competing with small and enormous companies helps in the gradual growth of the business.

Interview with Alexander De Argos

            The meeting with Alex was majorly on leadership techniques. Alex wanted Ma to explain why the latter always indicates that about 45% of the employees are women. However, Ma noted that 45% is not even half of the gender basis (Elena, 2019). In this case, Ma is interested in maintaining a gender balance in his company. Therefore, there will be no group that will feel oppressed, thus calling for maximum productivity. An organization that has maintained gender balance is free from attacks from external forces, and this assists in focusing on achieving the goals of the company.

            In another question on the people employed in the company, Ma indicated that he values diversity and inclusion. The establishment of other subsidiaries of Alibaba in various countries have opened up the opportunities of the citizens of those countries (Elena, 2019). In 2017, Jack Ma held talks with Donald Trump on the creation of one million job opportunities in the United States after the CEO became interested in the US. Markets. Ma is interested in including every person regardless of their background into the company provided they have skills (Shao, 2014). Through the culture of facilitating diversity, the company has gained global recognition, thus improving on reputation.

            On the relationship with business partners, Jack Ma indicated that it is wise to find the right individuals and not best friends (Elena, 2019). He recalls partnering with a computer scientist when starting the business since the partner understood the operations of the internet. Jack Ma had several friends but preferred the scientist since he was the right person to boost and realize Ma’s dream.

            The policy of accepting changes in the leadership of a company has assisted the owner of Alibaba to adapt to various dynamics in the markets. He notes that the process of changing at will is better than letting the trends in the market change you (Shao, 2014). The changes or trends will come with changes that might not be withstood by the company, and this might lead to the collapse of the business.

            In another question, Alexander asks if the Alibaba company sells goods and services. However, Jack Ma object to this comment and indicate that their main focus is to solve problems and not to sell. He notes that when a company is faced with the issue of internet, Alibaba will come with a solution of cloud computing, also when the problem is delivery, the company will provide a logistic solution (Elena, 2019). Also, when a company has an issue of getting to the market, Alibaba provides the necessary resources. In this case, Jack Ma notes that it is easier to survive in the market by providing solutions to the issues affecting people and not just offering goods and services.

Leadership communication of Jack Ma

            Jack Ma has adopted a variety of communication channels, which include YouTube channels, Facebook, WeChat, and Twitter. These channels have a wide following, and thus the official communications are made through them. However, communication to the staff and shareholders is done through emailing them (Rebecca, 2015). Special notifications are created by the communication department of the company and the emailed to the respective emails of the shareholders. In most cases, Jack Ma takes to social media channels to indicate proceedings of the company, particularly during conferences and official meetings. This has helped in promoting the transparency of the company. Thus the reputation has significantly improved (Shao, 2014). Lately, Twitter has been an official communication channel of Jack Ma, and it has impacted on those who follow him. Most of his activities and various information are posted in his twitter handle with different hashtags to allow easier access.     

            The employees get communication through a well laid down structure. In daily interactions, the subordinate and the executives get information in the same channel (Shao, 2014). Bottom-top communication is adopted in the organization. This is where the subordinates communicate on what should be done and also point out mistakes among themselves and the executives.

Controversies

            Every developing company is faced with a series of controversies that deter the improvement of the public image and reputation. Alibaba company is not an exception when it comes to disputes around its operations, ways of handling customers, and their services. In one of the company’s internal meetings, the boss of Alibaba noted that every person who wishes to join them would be required to work for over 12 hours in a day, and only one day for resting in a week (Yilin, 2019). He indicated that the workers who advocate for eight hours of working should not even bother to apply for any working position in his company. The remarks were connected to the deaths of programmers working long hours with stress in the company. The programmers’ death tales are associated with the 996 working policies in China (Yilin, 2019). The work schedule of 996 was implemented in China to boost the output of the workers, thus facilitate the rapid growth that is currently witnessed in the country.

            The 12 working hours at Alibaba were viewed as workers’ exploitations to facilitate the accumulation of wealth for the Jack Ma and other few shareholders at the expense of the workers’ health (Yilin, 2019). The 996 work schedule in China indicates that an employee will report to work at 9 a.m. and leave at 9 p.m. for six days in a week. This is pure exploitation.  

            However, Jack Ma indicated that been given the opportunity of working overtime, especially by the youth, should be viewed as a blessing rather than exploitation. The process of working overtime increases the experience of the workers, and they will be more concerned with their responsibility rather than been engaged in other things, which will make them non-productive (Sebastian, 2019). These comments have been reviewed by various individuals with the government of China supporting the ideas.

Leadership style

            Jack Ma’s leadership style is unique from most management strategies in various companies. A bottom-up approach is used in leadership. In this style, the subordinate staffs heavily rely in the decision making of the company (Rebecca, 2015). He has structured the company to facilitate an innovative and creative culture. Even though Jack Ma is considered the head of Alibaba, the responsibilities of running the company are entirely under the board of directors.    The ideas of running the company are always collected from the subordinate staff and evaluated. These ideas form a more significant portion of management decisions. Jack Ma believes that every person has their observational skills, which makes them improve on the leadership (Rebecca, 2015). Different observations of the employees help them to come with essential comments and views which are used in management. The bottom-up leadership helps in making the employees feel valued and appreciated, and this facilitates positivity in the workplace.

What makes Alibaba unique

            While most companies are out there trying to attract the best employees, Alibaba, through Jack Ma indicates that they only hire the right people. Jack Ma suggests that in most cases, the people who are excessively educated might fail to make a better team for the company’s operations (Shao, 2014). The individuals who are less influential in the field of academics are observed to perform, and thus, they the main target of Alibaba Company. These individuals have unique soft skills needed in the operations of the Company. The bottom-up management has dramatically affected the success of the company in a positive way. This system allows the subordinate staff to express their opinions in a freeway without fear of been sacked. Through this system, all the employees are working for the similar course since they are involved in making decisions (Shao, 2014). The bottom-up management has been viewed as a tool to facilitate management succession. This is supported by the willingness of Jack Ma to step down as Chairman of the company leaves it to Daniel Zhang. Ma must have well prepared the current leader before taking over the giant ecommerce company.

            Also, Alibaba is among the few companies that do not sack their employees because of mistakes done. Jack Ma indicates that errors are part of learning, and through them, the perfectionists are produced (Shao, 2014). However, they do not tolerate careless mistakes.

            Communication and collaboration are the central policies and culture of Alibaba Company. The learning is achieved through the elimination of seniority and superiority (Shao, 2014). The two are eliminated through the treatment of staff in an equal standard. The hierarchy of management is flat even though the CEO and other executives exist. Criticism of top management is encouraged in this company, thus facilitating the promotion of transparency (Shao, 2014). One of the strangest features of this company is that employees access the top information when they request. In other companies, most information about the company’s operations is known to the management only. 

Mergers with Alibaba Group

            In 2019, Alibaba has merged with NetEase Kaola, through acquiring the later for $2 billion. The merging of the two companies has come after Jack Ma left the office for Daniel Zhang (Shu, 2019). The companies agreed to be integrated in Tmall, thus coming up with an idea of establishing the largest e-commerce company in China. However, the agreement was reached after a series of talks since they had initially disagreed on various issues, including transactions (Shu, 2019). However, the NetEase Kaola has retained the right to operate without interference from the Alibaba Group. The two companies have a culture of facilitating growth beyond the borders, and their decision to merge came after an agreement to deal with large companies such as Amazon China and JD Worldwide (Shu, 2019). Kaola deals with the importation of goods and services in China. This merger was successful due to a common goal of extending operations across China and also facilitation of quality services.

Success of the mergers

            The acquisition of Kaola was not initially successful due to various disagreements on the control of the newly acquired company. The process of merging a company with the other is done through a detailed procedure of disclosing information such as financial status, market operations, net value, and the real-time customers (Shu, 2019). Just like in Franchise, acquiring a company that has not disclosed the information stated is riskier than starting a new one. The company might be in an unfortunate financial position due to a weak market presence. In this case, Alibaba Group will find themselves merging with a company about to collapse. The disagreement in the transaction is a significant reason why Alibaba was unable to continue with the acquisition process of the company. After reaching an amicable solution to this issue, the two companies were able to identify common goals.

Working with Jack Ma

            Jack Ma is one of the resourceful and successful individuals in the world. His achievements have been facilitated through experience in the operations of the market and how to deal with various dynamics in the market. Observation is one of the best methods of gathering data, and thus while working with Jack Ma, I will be able to observe how he operates and apply the knowledge in my future activities. Therefore, I would like to work with this person. Working with Jack Ma will expose me to various management techniques and skills. Also, the ways of studying the changes in the market and be able to adapt to them will be facilitated through guidance from Jack Ma. Besides, a person who always associates themselves with successful individuals also learns a few tactics of becoming successful. This is explained by the numerous interviews, business talks, and conferences Jack Ma has been invited to talk about ways of becoming successful, thus help the struggling and upcoming entrepreneurs with few tips. There is no individual who hates success.

Conclusion

            There are different tactics employed by multiple successful individuals in the world. Even though some of their methods of becoming successful might be a secret only known to themselves, a large portion of the tactics they employed to be a success is known. These tactics are the commitment, focus, goal setting, and find the right people to team up and pool resources. Most of these individuals started their investments with little cash, and thus, the investors who wait to have large sums of money to start investments are mistaken and in the wrong track. Jack Ma is an example of success in entrepreneurship. He achieved success within twenty years of operations. His success is achieved through struggle and adequate analysis of opportunities. Even though every person has a few shortcomings, Jack Ma has been able to navigate through them and repainted his public image. The role of Jack Ma in promoting entrepreneurship around the world has been remarkable. He has also been able to establish a charity foundation to help the less fortunate individuals in the society; this has been part of corporate social responsibility, which Ma stressed on leaving his managerial position at Alibaba to concentrate on. 

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