The Genesis of AGLA

Below is a transcript of the opening speech of the AGLA program delivered by Executive Director, Brian Wong


Congratulations, you made it!

You are the 32 out of 3300 selected for our inaugural class of the Alibaba Global Leadership Program! A class of unique and outstanding individuals with a great level of diversity, coming from 14 countries speaking a myriad set of languages, with backgrounds in banking, consulting, technology, engineering, government, media, and much more!

Genesis #2

When I think about the journey it took to reach this far, it gives me satisfaction just knowing we how far we have come just to get here.

Tireless hours on both sides have been invested leading up to today and we are very excited to have you all join us at our headquarters at Alibaba.

Today is your first day here and don’t worry I’m not going to get into anything too deep like Alibaba’s int’l business strategy or some surprise case studies. We have plenty of time for that. Instead, what I want to do in today’s is first, welcome you all, and two, just set the stage and expectations for what’s ahead in these 12 months.


First of all, you are all part of an inaugural AGLA class. The pioneers so to speak. So you should feel proud that you have all made Alibaba history already by just showing up!

Second, I hope you all will constantly be framing your experience here as one of self-exploration and reflection.  That will be the best way for you to extract the most valuable lessons from the hands on experience you will get every day.

Finally, take things one step at a time. For many of you guys, especially the recent b-school graduates, there is a tendency to want to get things done and then just get to the next thing. Of course, career progression is also very important. Alibaba is not short on speed, nor on things to keep you busy. However, things aren’t always linear. . . . So to some extent you need to make yourself adaptable and for at least these 12 months allow yourself to also go with the flow at times and see where it will take you.

Genesis #1

Either way, it’s going to be a memorable experience in the coming 12 months which we hope will be transformational in your long term career trajectory.


Jack Ma likes to often say, “When you come to Alibaba, we cannot promise you riches and fame, but we can definitely promise you hardship and suffering. . . “

When I took leave from Alibaba for two years, I came back to see Jack at one point and asked him for advice, he said, “Go travel somewhere very poor and remote. Stay for a day. If you are comfortable, then leave and find another place more poor and remote. If you are uncomfortable, then stay another day and ask yourself why you feel that way.”

What’s the point of all this?

The kind of leadership we want to teach you is not the stuff you will be able to learn in a classroom. The kind of leadership we hope to teach you in this coming year is not formulaic. It’s the kind of leadership that will need to be built from within and developed over time. This is the best thing we can do for you all and the best thing you can do for yourself.

Many people ask me these days, why on earth did I leave a good life in Pacific Heights, San Francisco, after growing up in Palo Alto to HZ in 1999 to join Alibaba?

That may seem obvious to everyone now, especially after the beautification of G20 and our company’s two IPOs! But believe me, at that time HZ was a much different place and the adjustments in living accommodations, lifestyle and general working conditions were significant. So there needs to be something more than just finding a well-paying job that will motivate you all to give up other opportunities to come all this way and join us for a year.

I realize that many of you are giving up equally fine opportunities to join the AGLA program. That’s why it’s critical for each of you to give this your best effort and commitment to going deep into the Alibaba world and discovering new things that you can take back with you to your home countries. Like many things in life, you will get what you put into this. So the more you involve and immerse yourself the more you will learn.

This time here will stretch and challenge you in ways you won’t expect. It will definitely take you out of your comfort zones.

Culturally it is new for some of you. There will be frustrating times when you throw your hands in the air and say “what is going on here?!! Why do they do it this way?!!” Moments like those it will be important to find your life or work buddies and have a beer to reflect on the situation.

Some of you may feel you have the language and culture down, but don’t be so certain you have it all figured out. Sometimes it is those people who THINK they know what’s going on who are the ones that have the most difficult time. That’s me. . . . I thought growing up with a Chinese cultural heritage and learning a little Chinese before coming that I knew what was going on. Completely the opposite . . . a humbling experience. . . and it wasn’t until I let go did I really then start to get an immense appreciation for what was happening at Alibaba.


When we say this is a leadership training academy, we will train your mind first to be resilient and for you to have an inner strength that will allow you to weather the kind of unpredictability that the new DT (Data Technology) era brings. With technology the rate of change and its scale is so huge, that we must now change the way we think and do things in order to be adaptive enough.

Genesis #3

Jack is the best example of this where he literally has grown with the company and the industry (most of the time leading it) mainly because he exemplifies the kind of leadership thinking that we hope to train all of you in.

I refer to it as INNER STRENGTH. Something that can only be built through constant persistence, some failure and pain, and a strong dose of optimism and faith that sooner or later the success will come. Jack’s rejection from college 4 times, from companies like KFC and all the naysayers during his early Alibaba days all prepared him for what he is doing now.

At Alibaba, leaders see the hope when others focus on the problem. When others focus on the success, the leader is then focusing on the problem.

The key words for Alibaba leaders are idealism, positivity, responsibility and humility.

You are all stars where you have come from both academically and professionally. Otherwise you wouldn’t have been here. But I ask that you leave the ego at the door and look around you at your fellow classmates and acknowledge them as part of your family for the next 12 months. You are about to embark on a journey together and share laughter and tears together that will only bring you closer together.

“You come here as individual stars. But you should leave as a constellation.”

After these 12 months I hope that you realize how much more powerful you all can be as a group and team and affect the change that you want to make together.

A warm welcome, once again! And good luck to you all in the coming 12 months!! May this be a life changing experience for you all!

Brian A. Wong is the Executive Director of the Alibaba Global Leadership Academy (AGLA) and Vice President of Global Initiatives. He has worked in a myriad of roles during his tenure at Alibaba but cannot think of a better way to spend his time now at the company than to help develop the future generation of international leaders and is thrilled to be working with all of the amazing students in the AGLA program.

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