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"We Were Actually Very Silly": Billionaire Jack Ma On Success, Luck & Speaking Harsh Truths

This article originally appeared on Vulcan Post

The driving force behind e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba, Jack Ma’s meteoric rise from humble origins to self-made billionaire has captured the awe, imagination and respect of entrepreneurs all over the world. It’s always worthwhile trying to soak up some life lessons from the great men of today, so we’ve sifted through the latest book of his words, 《马云内部讲话:相信明天》 (Jack Ma’s Internal Speeches: Trust In Tomorrow), to bring you some choice quotes on entrepreneurship, success and the values one should uphold.

On the Secret to Success: Strange Ways of Thinking

“别人问我,你的脸怎么长得这么怪?我说,因为我想的东西比较怪,我天天在想什么东西会阻碍公司的发展,什么东西会变成癌症,什么东西会变成感冒。”

(Source: www.201980.com)

“People ask, how is it that your face became so strange? I say, because the things I think about are more strange, day in and day out I’m considering what might impede my company’s growth, what issues might turn cancerous and what might become colds.”

Image Credit: CNBC)
Image Credit: CNBC

On Things More Important Than Wealth

“这三五年,我绝对不是为自己干。我最幸福、快乐的日子,是拿92块钱的时候,那时候我的想法很简单:再工作几个月,有一点钱,就可以买一辆自行车了。今天的企业,必须具备我前面讲到的开放精神、分享心态、全球化的眼光和责任感。”

(Source: www.huxiu.com)

“These three, five years, it’s definitely not myself for whom I’m working. The happiest times of my life were when I only earned 92 dollars, during that time my beliefs were very simple: work for a few months more, earn a bit of money, then I can buy myself a bicycle. In business today, one must have a spirit of openness, a mentality of sharing, a globalised outlook and a sense of responsibility.”

“我身上没有名牌,我对名牌不感兴趣,对汽车不感兴趣。我感兴趣的是,我可不可以影响和改变这个世界。盖茨把他580亿美元的财产都捐掉了,这是他对人类社会的贡献… 我觉得盖茨很伟大,他做这样的事情,就是影响了世界。”

(Source: www.huxiu.com)

“I own no branded goods, I have no interest in such things, nor in cars. What interests me is whether I can create change in this world. [Bill] Gates donated US$58 billion, and that is his contribution to society… I feel that Gates is a very great man — by doing things such as these, he left an impact on the world.”

Bill Gates (left) and Jack Ma. (Image Credit: Bill Gates)
Bill Gates (left) and Jack Ma. (Image Credit: Bill Gates)

On His Success Being Down to Luck

“创业者如何将公司慢慢做起来,做好、做强、做大?最近,我觉得自己的名气大了起来,特别是上市以后,人们看我的眼光不对劲了,大家觉得阿里巴巴怎么这么厉害,马云怎么这么厉害。在取得了一点成绩以后,我们可能会忘掉自己是谁,因为我们年轻,我们是平凡人。

创业的时候,我不断提醒自己我们是谁,我们从哪里来。11月6日阿里巴巴上市的时候,大家觉得阿里巴巴真的很伟大,怎么会有这么高的市值。对我来说,11月6日跟11月5日是一样的,我没有觉得自己有怎样的变化。

上市前后,我将阿里巴巴五年以上的员工聚集在一起开了个会,我问了他们一个问题。我说,阿里巴巴有这么多百万富翁和千万富翁,在别人眼中,我们很成功。

Image Credit: qz.com
Image Credit: qz.com

为什么成功?因为我们比别人勤奋?我看不出来,虽然我们很勤奋,但这个世界上比我们勤奋的人很多。因为我们比别人聪明?我看未必,四五年前我们招员工很难,现在招员工很容易,街上会走路的人都被我们招来了。

我们不勤奋,也不聪明,结果我们这些人都变成了富翁,是什么原因?因为我们的运气好,我们其实很傻。七八年前,很多人加入了阿里巴巴,一些聪明的人认为公司给的机会很少,被别的公司挖走了,或者自己创业,收入和待遇提高了。

剩下的人不聪明,没有人来挖,结果五年以后,回头一看,我们居然变得这么有钱。”

(Source: www.201980.com)

Image Credit: www.haravan.com
Image Credit: www.haravan.com

“How do entrepreneurs slowly build up their companies to become good, become strong, become big? Nowadays, I sense my repute growing; especially after [Alibaba] became a listed company, people are afraid to look me in the eye; everyone wonders how Alibaba became so powerful, how Jack Ma is so clever. After achieving some modest results, we run the risk of forgetting who we are, because we’re young, we’re ordinary people.

When I set out on my venture, I ceaselessly reminded myself of who we were, and where we hailed from. When Alibaba listed on the 6th of November, everyone thought we were truly great, [and wondered] how could we have gotten such a high market value. [But] to me, 6 November and 5 November were the same, I didn’t feel any difference within myself.

After Alibaba was listed, I held a meeting with employees who’d been with the company for five years and longer, [and] I asked them a question. I said, Alibaba has so many millionaires and multi-millionaires — to others, we’re very successful.

Image Credit: money.cnn.com
Image Credit: money.cnn.com

Why successful? Because we were more diligent as compared to others? I don’t see it — although we are very diligent, there’re many people who’re more diligent than us in this world. Because we’re smarter? I don’t think so, recruiting staff was very difficult four, five years ago, [though] hiring is much easier now.

We weren’t particularly diligent or smart, so how is it that we all became wealthy? Because we had good fortune – we were actually very stupid. Seven or eight years ago, many people joined Alibaba; several clever ones felt that the opportunities available to them in the company were few, and were poached by other companies or set up their own businesses — their salaries went up.

The remaining ones weren’t smart and weren’t poached by anyone, [yet] if one takes stock of the five years that have passed, we are the ones who have inexplicably made our fortunes.”

Image Credit: Today Online
Image Credit: Today Online

On the Necessity of Telling Harsh Truths

“我觉得忽悠别人是很容易的,我可以很虚伪地跟别人说,你很勤奋很努力,坚持几年,一定能成功。但实际上,你可能告诉他的是一条走不通的路。我相信,人这一辈子,很多时候需要有人跟你讲真话,需要有人在关键时刻跟你讲真话。”

(Source: www.201980.com)

“I think it’s an easy thing to hoodwink others — I can be a hypocrite and tell others, “You’re very hardworking, very diligent, persist for a few years and you’ll definitely succeed. But in reality, the road you’ve just recommended is a dead end. I believe what this generation requires is for people to tell them the truth, for people to be honest with them at critical moments.”

“在做《赢在中国》评委的时候,有几个选手很可爱,讲话很幽默很搞笑,但不适合晋级,节目组的人说要将他们留下来,这样才有收视率。我说,我应该讲真话,因为我相信这个节目对很多初期创业者,甚至是5~10年的创业者的影响是很大的。如果我在上面忽悠,讲的话不真实,为了搞笑而搞笑,就会害了一代创业者。”

(Source: www.201980.com)

“When I was a judge on《赢在中国》(Win in China, a Chinese reality TV show where entrepreneurs compete for investments), there were several contestants who were very cute, their speeches were humorous and entertaining — but unsuitable for promotion (on the show). The people behind the show wanted to let them stay, saying that it would boost ratings. [But] I said, I ought to speak the truth, because I believe that this show will leave a huge impact on a lot of budding entrepreneurs — both current and those five to ten years down the road. If I flatter them in my position, and say what isn’t truthful merely for the sake of entertainment, it would harm a generation of entrepreneurs.”

Image Credit: www.dailymail.co.uk
Image Credit: www.dailymail.co.uk

On the Guts and Focus Needed in Business

“做企业一定要专注。为企业制定战略目标,绝对不能超过三个。超过三个,你就记不住了,员工也记不住。每年定目标,确定三个最重要的,第四个就砍掉。

阿里巴巴为什么目前是七家公司,而不是八家?一个人的管理能力是有限的,最多只能管七个团队,七个以下没有问题,超过七个,一定会产生问题。对于小企业来说,战略就是活下去。要活下去,你必须想清楚三件事情:第一是你要做什么,第二是怎么干,第三是干多久。”

“Focus is essential for business. When laying down the strategic goals for your business, you must never exceed three. Once you’ve exceeded three, you won’t be able to remember them, and neither will your workers. When you set down goals each year, just determine the three most important, and cut out the fourth.

Why is Alibaba a seven-company business, rather than eight? A person’s management capabilities have limits; one can only manage at most seven teams. Seven and below will pose no problem, [but] exceeding that will definitely bring about problems. In terms of small startups, the strategic thing to do is to survive. To survive, you must think carefully about three issues: the first is what you want to do, the second is how to do it, the third is how long to do it for.”

Image Credit: www.theaustralian.com.au
Image Credit: www.theaustralian.com.au

“…永不放弃谁都会说,关键是真的撞头后,你是否会放弃。

这话我自己有很深的体会,创业要成功,就要永不放弃。大家都认为中国不可能搞电子商务,没有诚信体系,没有银行支付体系,没有网络的基础建设,怎么可能做起来?

所有人都这么讲,但我坚信中国一定会实现在线交易。中国要搞电子商务,缺少了诚信体系、市场体系、支付体系、搜索工具和软件,怎么办?那就将它们建起来,创业者如果等到所有条件都具备了才开始做,机会早就不是你的了。

好事情放在眼前,凭什么别人不做,让你做,你比别人勤奋吗?对于阿里巴巴来说,就建立了这七家公司,完全是因为中国缺少这些公司。”

(Source: www.201980.com)

Image Credit: www.livemint.com
Image Credit: www.livemint.com

“Everyone can talk about never giving up, what’s crucial is whether you give up when you really meet obstacles.

I have deep experience with this advice of mine — for a venture to succeed, one must never give up. Everyone believed that there was no way China could engage in e-commerce; we had no credit system, no bank payment system, no network infrastructure, how could we possibly do it?

Everyone said this, but I strongly believed that China could make online trading a reality. China wants to engage in e-commerce, [yet] is lacking a credit system, market system, payment system, search tools and software, what to do? The thing to do was to build these up; if entrepreneurs waited until all necessities were ready before they began to work, they would have lost their chance a long time ago.

If good things were placed before your eyes, and others don’t act such that you can, are you more hardworking than others? In Alibaba’s case, we managed to build this seven-company business entirely because China lacked such companies.”

Image Credit: www.inc.com
Image Credit: www.inc.com

On What it Takes to Be a Great Man

“第一次见到克林顿的时候,我就想,这哥们儿怎么这么想问题。这么厉害的总统,跟你讲话的时候,眼睛会一直看着你。我们有些处长和局长,跟人讲话的时候,眼睛都是往上看的。他看着你的时候,你会觉得,伟大的人作为平凡人存在的时候才是伟大的。

我再能干,在克林顿面前,在领导和治理国家上,我能算什么?所以,我要向他学习。还有比尔·盖茨对未来的畅想,巴菲特、索罗斯对投资的理念,这些人的思想都值得我好好学习。

(Source: www.201980.com)

“When I saw [Bill] Clinton for the first time, I thought, how differently this man considers issues. What an intelligent President — when he speaks to you, his gaze will be on you the whole time. We have some directors and secretaries whose eyes constantly drift above while talking to others. [But] when [Clinton] looks at you, you’ll begin to feel that great people are only great when they act like ordinary people.

However capable I am, how much do I really count as compared to Clinton, in terms of leading or governing a nation? Consequently, I want to learn from him. And then there’s Bill Gates and his thoughts on the future ahead, Warren Buffett, [George] Soros and his ideas about investment; the ideas of these leaders are worth my close study.”

Image Credit: NBC News
Image Credit: NBC News

“领导者的眼光、胸怀和实力是最重要的。这些年来,我一直坚持这样的想法。

领导者的眼光放不开是不行的,我们跟别人比赛,比的是谁看得更远,谁看得更高。生意越来越难做,眼光看得更远,走得就更远。”

(Source: www.201980.com)

“For a leader, vision, heart and strength are the most important. All these years, I’ve continuously upheld this belief.

Leaders cannot be unable to broaden their vision; when we compete with others, we’re competing to see who can see the furthest, the loftiest. It’s becoming more and more difficult to do business, the further your vision can stretch, the farther your journey must be.”

The article contains excerpts from 红旗出版社 (Red Flag Publishing)’s 《马云内部讲话:相信明天》, originally published in Chinese and here translated into English.

About Jack Ma: Jack Ma is a Chinese Internet entrepreneur. He is the Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, a family of highly successful Internet-based businesses. He is also the first mainland Chinese entrepreneur to appear on the cover of Forbes Magazine and ranks as one of the world’s billionaires. Ma was named the Financial Times’ 2013 Person of the Year because he personifies the Chinese Internet, referring to him as the “godfather of China’s scrappy entrepreneurial spirit.”.

 

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