Joseph Tsai is the Taiwanese-Hong Kong-Canadian businessman who’s best known as Jack Ma’s sidekick in the multinational technology company Alibaba Group. He founded the company alongside Ma in the 1990s, taking a huge pay cut that saw his income drop from over $700,000 to just $600 per year. It all worked out ok in the end, though – these days, Tsai is a multi-billionaire with a fortune that ranks as the tenth biggest in Hong Kong, something that came very much in handy when he dropped over $2 billion to buy the Brooklyn Nets in 2019. Find out more with these 10 things you didn’t know about Joseph Tsai.
1. He holds two degrees
Tsai was born in Taipei, Taiwan in January 1964. At the age of 13, he was sent to the US to study at Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. It was there that he discovered his passion for sport, and he quickly became one of the star players on both the lacrosse and football team. After graduating, he won a place at Yale University studying Economics and East Asian studies. He later earned his JD from Yale Law School.
2 He began his career as a tax associate
After graduating from Yale Law School, Tsai began his career as a tax associate at the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. After being admitted as an attorney to the New York bar, he switched tracks and moved into private equity at the management buyout firm, Rosecliff, Inc. In 1995, he swapped the US for Hong Kong after joining Investor AB, where he led its Asian private equity investments.
3. He accepted a huge salary cut to join Alibaba
While he was still at Investor AB, Tsai was introduced to Jack Ma by a friend. Ma floated his idea of building an import and export marketplace to Tsai, who was immediately struck by both his plan and his charisma. He decided to join him, quitting his $700,000 a year job at Investor AB to join Alibaba’s founding team on a salary of just $600 a year. As no other member of the team had any legal experience, he took sole responsibility for its financial and legal; framework. After serving as its COO, CFO, and, from May 2013, its executive vice-chairman, he’s now the second-largest shareholder in the company after Ma.
4. He’s the tenth richest person in Hong Kong
He may have taken a massive pay cut when he joined Alibaba, but the decision has clearly paid off in the long run. According to Forbes, Tsai now ranks as the 10th richest man in Hong Kong with a net worth of $11.6 billion.
5. He’s the majority shareholder of the Brooklyn Nets
In August 2019, Tsai made the history books when he paid $2.35 billion for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and the team’s home stadium Barclays Center. The deal represented the highest amount ever paid for a sports franchise. Tsai had actually held a 49 percent share in the Nets since 2018, but the deal saw him gain full control after Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov handed over his 51 percent share. Speaking shortly after the deal was announced, Tsai made sure to pay his respects to Prokhorov in his statement. “I’ve had the opportunity to witness up close the Brooklyn Nets rebuild that Mikhail started a few years ago,” he said. “He hired a front office and coaching staff focused on player development, he supported the organization with all his resources, and he refused to tank. I will be the beneficiary of Mikhail’s vision, which put the Nets in a great position to compete, and for which I am incredibly grateful.”
6. He’s a major sports fan
As if paying $2.3 billion for the Brooklyn Nets wasn’t a big enough giveaway, Tsai has cemented his reputation as a major sports fan by splashing his cash on a variety of other franchises. According to Wikipedia, he spent $5 million on buying the San Diego Seals franchise after growing to love lacrosse during his school and college days. In January 2019, he added WNBA’s New York Liberty to his collection. He also serves as the chairman of J Tsai Sports, through which he’s invested in the upstart field lacrosse league, the Premier Lacrosse League, and numerous other sports media and technology companies in both North America and Asia.
7. He holds Canadian and Hong Kong passports
Tsai is the holder of both a Hong Kong and a Canadian passport. These days, he and his wife, Clara Ming-Hua-Wu, and their three children live in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California, after having spent over a decade living and working in Hong Kong. However, he still visits Hong Kong regularly for business.
8. He’s a noted philanthropist
Jack Ma may have a reputation as one of the most prolific philanthropists in Asia, but Tsai isn’t too far behind. Over the years, he’s made several significant gifts to his alma mater, Yale Law School, including a $30 million donation in 2016. Via his foundation, the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation, he’s also proved a generous benefactor to his old high school, Lawrenceville. Last year alone, he donated $1.6 million in medical supplies to hospitals in San Diego, and $50 million to social justice and economic equality initiatives.
9. He’s an award winner
In 2017, Tsia was honored by his former college, Yale University, with the presentation of the George H.W. Bush ’48 Lifetime of Leadership Award. According to ypps.yale.edu, the award honors alumni athletes that have made significant contributions in their worlds of public service, science and technology, governance, commerce, education, and the arts and media.
10. He made headlines with his response to the Hong Kong protests
When pro-democracy, anti-government protests began rocking Hong Kong in 2019, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey felt compelled to show his support for the protestors via a lengthy post on Twitter. Tsai felt equally compelled to respond to the situation, albeit from a very different perspective. In an open letter posted to his Facebook page, Tsai stoked the flames of the debate by describing the protestors as part of a “separatist movement,” adding “1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable.”