One of the biggest dilemmas for entrepreneurs is the decision to begin a fresh innings when their business is at its peak. While one may want to continue growing when they are at the top of their game, there is also the thought of walking away—instead of exiting at a time when the business is stumbling.
Whatever be the case, the answer is never an easy one and there is not a day in our lives when we haven’t contemplated this. Retiring is also often attributed to age. However, there are people who choose to retire early—maybe even in their 20s or 30s—and those that keep working well into their 80s.
As Jack Ma steps down from his leadership position at Alibaba, these are some thoughts that run through our mind. His exit comes at a time when Alibaba enjoys the status of Asia’s most valuable listed company, with a market capitalisation of $460 billion, employing over 100,000 people.
Jack Ma’s trajectory is truly an awe-inspiring saga of how perseverance and determination can help you achieve your goals. Whether it be riding a bicycle for 60-70 miles daily to work as a local tourist guide or becoming one of the wealthiest and most renowned entrepreneurs in the world, Jack Ma is nothing short of a legend. The part about him applying for 30 jobs and getting rejected every single time, continues to be one of the most viral motivational stories today.
Ma’s far-sightedness made him create Alibaba in 1999 and introduce e-commerce with an aim to grow local markets in China. What started as a dream has now become one of the biggest e-commerce enterprises in the world. In the past three-four decades, we have seen a number of globally renowned entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos create outstanding businesses. However, it is Ma’s ability to generate employment and create value for local economies that makes him stand apart. Through Alibaba and its allied businesses, Ma has helped create scores of micro-entrepreneurs and local success stories that will keep his initiatives and legacy going on for many generations to come. It would be apt to say that this multi-faceted nature of Ma’s business creation strategy is an ideal case study for future entrepreneurs.
But perhaps the greatest testament to his visionary abilities is his taking a critical step which most of his contemporaries fail at: nurturing a strong line of succession. Right from his early days, education and learning has been close to Ma’s heart. An avid learner himself, he has now professed his desire to focus on education in a major way in his second innings. The entry of a problem-solver with mighty ambitions can work wonders for the future of education globally.
JACK MA AND INDIA
Under Ma’s leadership, Alibaba has made strong forays into the Indian market in recent years. The company has put its weight behind large platforms that have been redefining major markets. Apart from aggressively investing in the Indian market previously dominated by names like the Japanese major SoftBank, Tiger Global and Naspers etc., Alibaba’s India strategy almost mirrors its China story. So far it has been content with making strategic investments in a number of companies instead of the typical pattern of buying controlling stakes or ownerships. Its Indian investment portfolio features names such as Paytm, the largest fintech company in India; Zomato, India’s largest food-tech company; and bigbasket, the largest online grocery brand in India, apart from Paytm Mall, Xpressbees, and others. Evidently, it has been aiming at creating an all-encompassing ecosystem comprising a marketplace, food, grocery, logistics and payments service providers, etc.
What is truly fascinating, however, is how Ma’s exit was properly planned and even expected for a while now. The latest development is also going to be quite interesting to follow in terms of the future investment strategy of Alibaba in India.
There are certain questions being raised about the timing of Ma’s decision to step down and the extent to which he will continue influencing Alibaba’s operations. Considering how under U.S. President Donald Trump the country has adopted an aggressive posture and the trade standoff between the U.S. and China, Alibaba needs to strike a fine balance in navigating this period. There is also talk about a major global recession unfolding and how China is staring at a serious economic slowdown. Alibaba’s strategies and the global market scenarios indicate that while these factors might not be crippling, they can certainly be dampeners in the short term.
As far as Ma’s future association with Alibaba is concerned, it is difficult to precisely predict anything. He is still in control of a majority of the shareholding and has decision-making power. In case the team that he has chosen as his successors fails to continue the momentum, he might just return to the driver’s seat. We have seen this happen in the case of Jobs (Apple), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Michael Dell (Dell) and closer home, N.R. Narayana Murthy (Infosys) and Nandan Nilekani (Infosys).
WHY, AND WHAT NEXT?
No business, however big, global, or powerful, can satisfy all the interests of a person and Gates is one of the greatest examples of this. While Microsoft is regarded as the most valuable company in the world, the Gates Foundation is more valuable considering the number of lives it saved, and the difference it is making to the world. Ma’s ambitions are identical. He has built an e-commerce giant and a massive payments platform, and now wants to get back to education and other areas of interest. There is no doubt in our minds that he will make a fantastic contribution to these fields, just the way he has done with Alibaba and Alipay.
It is our belief that everyone should give back to society at some stage in life—use their talent, wealth, experience, and contacts, and make a difference. Gates, Ma and other pathbreaking businesspersons have inspired us to become entrepreneurs, create lasting businesses, generate tens of thousands of jobs, and help our country. Now, with their post-retirement endeavours, they are giving us a playbook on how the next stage of one’s life should be.
Views are personal.
The authors are serial entrepreneurs and partners at GrowthStory, an entrepreneurship platform that has promoted companies such as bigbasket, Portea Medical, FreshMenu, and HomeLane.