“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you don’t know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love or a new country.”
– Anais Nin
Growing up, China always intrigued me. But I never knew enough about China to form my own opinions about it. So when I was offered the opportunity to work at Alibaba I was in two minds, should I accept or not? I took a leap of faith and decided to go for it.
I was always taught that knowledge and experience are the tools to carry us through challenging times. Yet while I was waiting for my luggage at the airport in Hangzhou my mind was awash with apprehension, and many, many unanswered questions. I knew China as well as I knew how to solve a Rubik’s cube! I was hoping that my work experience would help make up for my lack of knowledge about the country. I had left behind a stable job to go and work in a place that I knew nothing about. How will I communicate with people? Will I fit in? What if it doesn’t work out?
Upon leaving the airport the first challenge was finding a cab to deliver me to the hotel the Alibaba team had booked for me. But thankfully, all I had to say to the cab driver was the magic word, “Alibaba”. The cab driver frowned at me and corrected my pronunciation, splitting the name into two words, not one. I don’t understand Chinese but I could see that he was waiting for me to repeat after him and I obliged – Ali Baba! He was happy to hear my corrected pronunciation and we were on our way.
The next stop on my new journey was somewhere I would soon call home, Alibaba Xixi Campus.
The environment on campus was very fast paced but disarming. All of the employees seemed happy and content. Along with my fellow 31 AGLAers I was ushered in to a meeting room to start the on-boarding process. I walked in, expecting to be met by a cold and quiet room filled with strangers. To my surprise I entered a room of chirpy and energetic young people, chatting to each other as if they had known each other for a long time.
Despite the fact that not everybody had had a chance to speak to each other during the on-site interviews, Alibaba’s DingTalk messaging platform had helped us break the ice before we moved to Hangzhou. And although we had come from 14 different countries, and had very different backgrounds and experiences, we were pleasantly surprised to find we had plenty of things in common.
Our energetic emcees Neo (Cai Song) and Brian Wong started the proceedings of the day, asking each of us to give a self-introduction to the class before moving to another meeting room to start a group activity. I began to think to myself, “The day is going to go downhill from here, we’re going to be doing to those tedious group exercises.”
However, when Neo described the first activity to us I swallowed my words. He asked us to organise ourselves as a world map and stand in the position that represented our respective countries. The 32 of us spread ourselves across the room in a formation that embodied more diversity than I had seen in my short lifetime!
Next we were divided into groups and assigned our first team activity: creating a team name and accompanying poster. Once again, I had reservations, thinking to myself “We’re not in primary school!” But the task was designed to give us our first glimpse into the team-based way in which Alibaba employees operate, as well as the importance of creativity at this company.
After we had shared with the class the rationale behind each of the teams’ names and artistic creations, our hosts, Neo and Brian, introduced us our next set of group activities, titled “Mission Impossible”. After finding out what we were expected to do we figured the name was an apt description for the day’s tasks.
The tasks aimed to help us learn more about the culture and ethos of Alibaba. Several of them involved approaching seasoned Alibaba employees or “Aliren” and asking them questions about campus life.
We also had the opportunity to compose and perform a team song, discover the history behind some famous Alibaba slogans, juggle competitively, and other obscure yet fascinating activities.
“Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine”
– Jack Ma
Completing these seemingly mundane or even silly exercises was extremely refreshing. I felt as if I was seeing things in a completely new light. The activities left a big impact on me, and in the process, taught me deeply about the culture of Alibaba.
As a result, I now feel that I understand and identify with the values of the organisation and I know that I can contribute meaningfully. Unlike other corporations, it is not the Alibaba way to sit down and rewrite their vision, mission and values based on the direction in which the senior management want the organisation to go. Alibaba’s values are ingrained in the everyday work that takes place – and I believe these values and culture are transcendental, even through the changing faces of business and technology that we can expect to see in years to come.
The AGLA program has positioned me at the cross roads of culture, economy, digitization and globalization. The experience that I’m going through is unique and I don’t think I would be able to get even close such an exposure at the pace at which Alibaba embraces change. My experiences here never cease to amaze me. The thrust of passion, commitment, team work and customer focus pushes me forward to experiment, occasionally fail, and learn.
Cai Song, Brian, Puxin and many other Aliren worked through their golden week holiday so that we could get a smooth landing. When the class convened many of the behind the scenes heroes were reticent when they were thanked and praised for their efforts. The integrity and honesty with which Aliren approach their work reflects in the results but their humility defies basic human instinct. I sense that this is the beginning of long relationship!
AGLA Class # 1
Manas Roy is an inquisitive soul from India who thrives in complexity. He is an avid reader and follower of world affairs. His curiosity brought him to Hangzhou and Alibaba!