Alibaba’s Jack Ma Fights To Win Back Trust

Forbes profiles Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce site, and his handling of a pending crisis at his company earlier this year:

On Feb. 18 some Alibaba board members held a videoconference. The internal task force had uncovered a “systemic” problem. The damage was small, with a total take of maybe $2 million. But it involved more than 2,300 fake storefronts. Moreover, “the company was at risk of developing a culture of pursuing short-term financial gain at all cost,” said Savio Kwan, the lead investigator. Senior management had to take the rap. That weekend Ma called for the heads of’s CEO, David Wei, and Elvis Lee, its COO, even though neither was charged with any wrongdoing. Ma, who is 46, felt he had to send a message to protect his company’s reputation.

“We are probably the only company in China that senior management takes responsibility,” Ma says, sitting in the seventh-floor VIP reception area overlooking the vast (1.5 million square feet) campus of seven interlocked buildings. “People think, ‘Jack, you do too much.’ I mean, too drastic. But I believe China needs this.”

That’s because Alibaba’s problems are, in a very real sense, China’s problems. What his country needs, Ma says, is a company the world can believe in–that values people over profits. His goal this next decade is to help 10 million small companies get a boost online, create 100 million new jobs and serve a billion consumers worldwide. Hoping to change the world might register on the cliché meters of Silicon Valley. But it’s sincere enough in China to make Ma something of a rare species. The scandal headlines played to the cynics in a nation steeped in corruption.


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