“Design creates culture, culture shapes values and values determine the future”
– Robert L Peters
When our class was informed at short notice that we were to attend Ant Financial’s annual meeting, taking place on a Sunday night at Hangzhou’s Huanglong Stadium, nobody quite knew what to expect. Having already spent one week at Alibaba, some of us had a strong suspicion that this might be a little less conventional than our previous companies’ AGM’s. (Note: Ant Financial is an affiliate of the Alibaba Group.)
As we approached the venue, we looked at one another in disbelief. Were we entering a corporate function or a nightclub? Dance music was emanating from the stadium, and a DJ was warming up the crowds of Ant Financial employees lining the arena. We excitedly rushed to find the seats we had been assigned, and tore open the goodie bags waiting for us so that we too could brandish luminous inflatable balloon clappers. Glancing around, we took a moment to appreciate the scale of the event. At least 10,000 Ant Financial employees were present – the man-power behind platforms and services such as Alipay, tools that are used by people all across the country, every day. It was an honor to be among them, and it felt magical to be a part of this very special celebration.
The evening began with some spectacular dance performances from various Ant Financial staff members. Our class was taken aback by the high standard of the dancing and the sheer number of employees taking part. How on earth did these employees find the time to rehearse and produce something so professional? We concluded that this was a clear example of Alibaba’s “Work hard, play hard” mentality and culture.
The charismatic emcees introduced each act and thanked each group of performers, making lots of jokes and maintaining the lively atmosphere. Soon, though, the arena hushed as the first speaker of the evening was announced: Lucy Peng, former CEO and new chairwoman of Ant Financial.
Lucy’s speech was filled with nostalgia, pride in the teams that had achieved such astounding success – and yet humility. It was moving to witness her repeatedly giving credit to the team in Ant Financial for its phenomenal achievements. She shared her view that the “show” was only just beginning for Ant Financial and that the “most exciting performance” is yet to come. She reassured those present that as chairwoman she would continue to be involved in the growth of the company by focusing on strategic development and talent management, working in partnership with Eric Jing, Ant Financial’s recently appointed CEO, and the wider teams.
As Lucy ended her speech, Eric took the stage and the two of them exchanged hugs. Eric began by acknowledging the colossal milestones achieved under Lucy’s watch, and expressed his desire to maintain the momentum and passion Lucy had initiated. He then outlined three strategic foci for the business going forward:
1) Globalization, with a goal of to serving two billion consumers globally 10 years from now;
2) To serve as the CFO’s for small and micro enterprises using big data; and
3) To enhance the trust system currently in place.
The final speaker of the evening was Alibaba Group Chairman Jack Ma. The crowd went wild as he emerged, his tiny figure just visible on the vast stage, before his smiling face surfaced on the big screens, waving to the sea of Ant staff, some of whom were literally leaping out of their seats with excitement. Jack began by praising Ant Financial for delivering a miracle in the world of finance, declaring that the company was responsible for “creating the future”. He also provided high level views on how he envisioned the company would look in the future, stressing that the business has an enormous undertaking and responsibility – the task of translating credibility into wealth and helping people who have credibility to grow richer. He shared his belief that the company should focus on the 80 percent of people who do not currently have the financial support they need, and provide a means to help these people and their businesses to grow and develop. In particular, he emphasized the need to perfect the trust system currently in place so that Ant Financial can better serve the financial needs of small and micro enterprises and consumers. Jack ended his speech by expressing his thanks to everyone at Ant Financial and called for the staff to unite together to build a solid ecosystem that will benefit countless young people and small enterprises going forward.
Many of us were moved by the senior management’s openness, sincerity and passion for facilitating change through their work at Ant Financial. As the management invited members of staff to join them onstage to sing some well-known songs together, we were once again reminded of the absence of hierarchy within the organization, and the closeness felt by colleagues, bound together through their shared experiences. It was indeed a unique and unforgettable annual meeting, encapsulating Alibaba’s extraordinary spirit and culture.
Miriam ‘Mim’ Esme Figueiredo and Chia Hong Tan
Mim, a musician by training, has lived and worked in Asia Pacific since 2012 and is delighted to have been accepted to the AGLA program.
Chia Hong hails from sunny island Singapore. He enjoys exploring new things and completed the Mt Everest Base Camp trek. His desire to deliver inclusive finance to the world led him to be part of the AGLA program.