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Smart people need a ‘fool’ to lead them, says Alibaba’s Jack Ma

A sampling of Jack Ma’s Yoda-like wisdom over the years

Updated: Sep 10, 2018 16:49:50

By Lulu Yilun Chen

Jack Ma, who founded e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and helped to launch China's online retailing boom, announced Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 that he will step down as the company's chairman next September. In a letter released by Alibaba, Ma said he will be succeeded by CEO Daniel Zhang. (AP Photo)

Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., announced on Monday his plans for stepping down from the e-commerce giant and handing over responsibilities to senior management. Since founding the company in 1999 with 17 other people in Hangzhou, China, Ma has become the distinctive face of the company -- and through its success, the country’s technology industry.

He’s dispensed Yoda-like wisdom over the years that have made him a role model in China and the subject of dozens of books. Here is a sampling:

On his leadership approach:

“Intelligent people need a fool to lead them. When the team’s all a bunch of scientists, it is best to have a peasant lead the way. His way of thinking is different. It’s easier to win if you have people seeing things from different perspectives.”

On the importance of women in top management:



“Women understand the thing that makes them better than men, the greatest weapon that God gives them, is gentleness. They understand tolerance.”



On the importance of perseverance:

“Today is hard, tomorrow is harder, but the day after tomorrow is beautiful.”

On determination:

“If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

On fighting eBay’s efforts to enter China:

“EBay may be a shark in the ocean, but I am a crocodile in the Yangtze River. If we fight in the ocean, we lose ― but if we fight in the river, we win.”

On priorities for management:

“Customer first, employees second, shareholders third.”

On the distraction of rivals:

“Do not focus on your competitors, focus on your customers.”

On the role of technology:

“I believe it’s not the technology that changes the world. It’s the dreams behind the technology that change the world.”

On hiring the right people:

“We’re never in lack of money. We lack people with dreams who can die for those dreams.”

On perspective for young workers:

“If young people have awe for the future, act conscientiously towards the present and be thankful for the past, they will have opportunities.”

On China’s internet controls and Western companies involvement:

“Facebook and these companies, if they come here they have to follow the rules and laws. Google, they left – we did not kick them out. When you do business in any country you have to follow the rules and laws.”

On philanthropic strategy:

“To do philanthropy well, you need to use commercial means, while bearing a philanthropic heart; don’t use philanthropic means and bear a commercial heart.”

First Published: Sep 10, 2018 16:26:14

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