Alibaba CEO Jack Ma: 10 Rules for Success

Jack Ma may not be a household name in the United States, but in entrepreneurial and business circles, he’s revered as a man who has been able to grow companies into international juggernauts. Ma is the founder of Alibaba, a China-based company that’s the world’s largest business to business trading platform. Since its founding in 1999, Ma’s Alibaba Group has grown to more than 20 affiliated companies. Prior to Alibaba, Ma started his first company, China Yellow Pages, in 1995, when he and his wife borrowed $20,000 to get it going. Within three years, he had turned that into $800,000.

Currently, Ma is the richest man in China and the 18th richest in the entire world, with a net worth of $29.7 billion. He’s widely regarded as one of the world’s top business leaders, a generous philanthropist, and a tenacious entrepreneur. He’s started companies with very little and spun them into gold, he’s found international success, and he’s been invited to give speeches all around the world.

If you’re an entrepreneur, an aspiring entrepreneur, or just someone who appreciates good business advice, Jack Ma is a man you should be keeping an eye on. Fortunately, he has some good tips on how to get ahead, and he’s happy to share them. Here are Alibaba CEO Jack Ma’s ten rules for success.

1. Getting rejected is not always bad.

Ma has had his fair share of rejection: for admission to schools, for jobs, and for just about anything you can think of. However, he never let this rejection discourage him; to Ma, that’s not how an entrepreneur thinks. Ma believes that being turned down from time to time helps you stay hungry and forces you to work on your weaknesses. If someone perceives that you can’t or you won’t do something well, that’s not necessarily rejection — it’s a learning opportunity! It’s the point where you stop and get to work on improving yourself, so that when you strike out for your next big endeavor, rejection won’t be an option.

2. Have a big dream or goal, and never lose sight of it.

This gives you a target to hit, a finish line to cross, a clear direction, and a specific purpose. Keep your goal in your sights as you work, and keep pushing toward it. With enough perseverance, hard work, and dedication, your dream will probably come true. Ma believes that you can achieve whatever you want it you keep your dream alive.

3. The core of any great company is a great culture.

This is one of the aspects of Alibaba of which Ma is most proud: the outstanding and positive working environment. If you foster a great culture, your team members will want to do great work for you. What’s more, creating a good culture takes continuous work, as a positive workplace culture will almost never evolve on its own. If you ignore the development of a good culture, Ma believes, you’re likely to end up with a hostile one, where employees aren’t motivated and are instead doing just the bare minimum. A great culture means a great company and a great future.

4. Don’t focus on the negative — focus on what’s going well.

No matter what line of work you’re in, you’re always going to get complaints. Ma isn’t saying that you should ignore these complaints, as many are valid and can push you to re-evaluate your methods and improve. However, you should have confidence in your abilities and in the quality and achievability of your goals — enough to banish the naysayers from your daily thoughts. This is what will help you succeed, according to Ma — not spending time bickering with those who have nothing better to do than be negative.

5. Never stop seeking out inspiration.

Sources of worthwhile inspiration are everywhere. Ma admits to learning a lot and being inspired by popular American movies, such as how to act in specific situations, how to give an emotionally rousing speech, and so on. Most of us find inspiration in art and culture, so don’t look at going to the movies or visiting a museum or even going to a sporting event as time frivolously spent. The muse may be lurking in any of those places.

6. Never lose sight of your focus.

Ma is totally focused on his mission and his purpose, often to the point where he has to say no to many requests and opportunities that don’t fit. If they’re nothing more than a good moneymaking opportunity or a good way to get his name out there, he says no. Ma knows what his focus is, and if you want to be successful, you’ve got to stay focused as well.

7. Pick a really good name for your company.

Ma certainly did! Alibaba is a word that’s known around the world, it rolls off the tongue no matter what your native language is, and it begins with the letter A. That last point may not seem like a big deal, but when companies are listed alphabetically, Alibaba is always at the top. The takeaway from all this? When naming your company, spend some time on it and choose something that will help you succeed.

8. Prioritize people in this order:

1. Customers, 2. Employees, 3. Shareholders. Without customers, you have no business, since all of your revenue comes from them. Without your employees, you have no innovation and no work being done. Shareholders, on the other hand, come and go because they’re in it only for the money. When the market tanks, the shareholders will leave, but you’ll still need your customers and your employees to keep your business afloat. The bottom line? Don’t work for shareholders — work for customers and for employees.

9. The things you want to complain about are often opportunities in disguise.

If you find yourself complaining about something, stop. Don’t look at it as a negative — look at it as a problem waiting to be solved. And who can solve it? You can! The way Ma sees it, you can either keep complaining about something, or you can rise to the challenge and make it better. He puts it as plainly as this: Where there is trouble, there is opportunity.

10. Be passionate, and let others see your passion.

You’ve got to believe fervently in what you can do and what your work is. What’s more, you need to make it a part of you, to share it with others. This passion will help get others excited about your work, and it will help you push through during the inevitable rough patches and difficult periods.


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