Alibaba founder Jack Ma turns 55-years-old today, while the e-commerce giant he founded turns 20. It’s also the day Ma is handing over the reins to Daniel Zhang.
The former English teacher founded the company in 1999 in his one-bedroom apartment in Hangzhou. Since then, it’s grown to be valued at $480 billion.
Zhang, currently Alibaba Group’s chief executive, will replace Ma as executive chairman.
In a letter to his employees on this day last year, Ma said he wanted to go back to teaching: “I still have lots of dreams to pursue… I want to return to education, which excites me with so much blessing because this is what I love to do.”
As Ma stands aside, here are some of his best pearls of wisdom:
Your first job is the most important
At the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, Ma shared his career advice to the Global Shapers community:
“When you graduate and are looking for a job, the first job is the most important. Not necessarily a company that has a great name. You should find a good boss that can teach you how to be a human, how to do things right. Stay there for at least three years.”
Teaching children soft skills is vital for the future
Speaking at Davos in 2018, Ma said we need to change the way we teach children in order to differentiate humans from artificial intelligence.
“If we do not change the way we teach, in 30 years we’ll be in trouble. We teach our kids things from the past 200 years, it’s knowledge-based, and we cannot teach our kids to compete with machines who’ll be smarter.
“We have to teach our kids something unique, so that a machine can never catch up with us: values, believing, independent thinking, teamwork, care for others – the soft skills – sports, music, painting, arts, to make sure humans are different from machines.
There is no expert of tomorrow
Asked by the Global Shapers community if he had any doubts when he first set up Alibaba, Ma admitted he had fears, but never doubted his ability to succeed.
“It was 1999, the early days of the internet. Everybody has a fair chance, there was no expert at that time. Even today, there is no expert of tomorrow.”