By Terri Fisher

The name’s Ma, Jack Ma. And in case you haven’t heard, his conglomeration of successful internet-based ventures has now amassed a net worth topping 286 billion U.S. dollars! Ma is the Chinese business magnate who is the founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, one of China’s largest internet companies and its largest online shopping website.

And while the biography of this man and his accomplishments, and well, global domination is indeed riveting, the true essence of the story may lie in Ma himself and his simple vision that one day people will remember him above all else as a “Tai Chi master” – or that during the initial public offering of his company on the NY Stock Exchange, instead of the usual executive-laden contingent of triumphant bell ringers, Ma brought a group of ordinary, everyday customers from China – or, the fact that his inspiration lies in the beloved character of Forest Gump – or, for the creed he has solemnly pledged that Alibaba would always stay true to its core principle of “putting customers before shareholders” – or that, while no longer the CEO, he continues to be revered as the “Spiritual Leader” of Alibaba.

Jack Ma was born on September 10, 1964 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China. After being introduced to the English language at an early age, he practiced it daily by conversing with English-speakers at the Hangzhou Hotel, a 40-minute bike ride from his home. The young Ma would give them tours around the city for free to improve his English. He did this for nine years but then struggled to attend college. The Chinese entrance exams are held only once a year and it took Ma four years to pass. After that, he attended Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute, currently known as Hangzhou Normal University, as head of the student council, and proudly graduated in 1988 with a B.A. in English. Ma met his wife, Zhang Ying there and they married shortly after graduating. Both began working as teachers. He later enrolled at the Beijing- based Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB) and graduated in 2006.

In the manner of many struggling prodigies, the early part of Jack Ma’s career was marked by rejection. He applied for 30 different jobs and got rejected by all, including Kentucky Fried Chicken. In early 1995, he went to the U.S. and with his friends’ help he got introduced to the INTERNET — and everything changed! A void of useful information about China led Ma, his wife and a friend to launch their first business, creating websites for companies. Within three years, his company, named “China Yellow Pages,” had made 5,000,000 Chinese Yuan, equivalent to $800,000 USD. All this, even though he never actually acquired a computer of his own until the age of 33!

And so it was Jack Ma’s English-speaking abilities that allowed him, a Chinese citizen, to visit the U.S., discover the power and potential of e-commerce, and to bring that germ of an idea back to China: a virgin land ripe for the advantages that internet- based commerce could provide. Ma returned to Hangzhou in 1999 and, in his apartment with a group of 18 friends, founded ALIBABA, a China-based business-to- business marketplace site…

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