We were extremely honored to have Alibaba’s founder and chairman, Jack Ma, as AGLA’s Speaker Series guest. We had all been eager to meet him in person, since day 1 of becoming Alibaba employees, and our excitement grew exponentially in the days leading up to the meeting.
During my spare time, I enjoy listening to TED talks, commencement speeches, and interviews of influential individuals. These inspire me to be more ambitious, adventurous, and daring in making decisions. When I watched, listened to, and read numerous interviews Jack gave, I remember being amazed by how realistic, optimistic, and open-minded he seems to be. From my studies, I pictured Jack as a simple yet determined leader with an exceptionally macro vision. The uniformity of his humility and modesty were a breath of fresh air and, in some ways, mind-boggling, because he helped build a company of impressive magnitude (45,000 employees and counting) and gained tremendous fame and wealth. On the day of meeting Jack, I was curious to see if the Jack I had pictured in my mind would be greeting us.
All eyes were on Jack as he walked into the conference room. After we greeted him, he began to talk to us about cultural exchanges, globalization, and leadership. His words and phrases were simple, yet extremely powerful. He spoke calmly, yet humorously. Jack’s message was sincerely heartfelt and encouraged us to work on developing traits and qualities to become better versions of ourselves and better leaders.
As a part of the Alibaba Global Leadership Academy, we wanted to learn what Jack sees in making a good leader. He said a good leader should have “a balance of IQ, EQ, and LQ. IQ is for intelligence, EQ is for emotions, and LQ, the Q of love.” Jack further explained that IQ, EQ, or LQ individually is not good enough; to be smart, successful, and respected, one would need to have a balance of all 3 Qs.
AGLA’s main purpose is to help Alibaba expand globally. The 32 of us are here at the Hangzhou headquarters not only to learn about the Alibaba culture firsthand and immerse ourselves in the Chinese culture, but also to exchange our international backgrounds and experiences with the local employees. The culture at the headquarters is truly unique and special — we are to carry this “Ali” culture and spread it to our international offices. A few weeks into becoming an Alibaba employee, I remember thinking that each employee I have had the chance to converse with seems to have some traits that are similar to Jack’s in the most genuine way. The employees here are extremely hardworking, smart, down-to-earth, and are team players. They also make sure they have fun at work, even during the busiest time of the year, such as 11.11, Singles’ Day. I also recall being very pleasantly surprised when I was talking to an Aliren about community service and thinking of ways to better the services we provide for our customers. She told me that employees at Alibaba treasure the opportunity to help others and to make our customers’ daily lives easier; the goal now is to do this on a global scale through AGLA.
During our Speaker Series session, Jack repeatedly mentioned how important it is for people to respect and accept cultural differences, especially as the world gets smaller with technological advancement. As globalization spreads, Alibaba must share its technology and know-how with other countries as an evangelist, not be the controller who monopolizes the industry. Throughout his speech, I could feel Jack’s generosity and altruism — his beliefs and values apply not only to his work, but also to himself as a Dream Maker, who believes we will soon welcome a new “virtual economy.”
When talking about his colleagues, Jack said they have different personalities, different characters, and different knowledge backgrounds, just like the 32 of us in the AGLA program. Despite these differences, Jack and his coworkers are able to work together, because of the mutual trust they have built over the years. Jack stated that his colleagues do not work for him nor does he work for them: they all “work for the same mission, vision, and value.” I realized this is why the culture at the HQ is so special and Jack-like – there is no hierarchy here; you are to be a self-starter, be self-motivated, and be a team player. Alibaba’s mission has not changed since its founding days and the company’s values can very evidently be felt and seen from within.
Jack sees globalization as a long-term project and he isn’t rushed to get the results imminently. There will be difficulties, challenges, and undoubtedly, mistakes, too. However, as Jack put it, mistakes are a part of one’s success and we must acknowledge and learn from them. He hopes to one day write a book on “Alibaba’s 1,001 Mistakes,” so he can share it with the world and tell the story of how the company overcame its mistakes and learned from them.
Jack used the word “zoo” to describe Alibaba; he wants a diverse group of people to join the company with an open mind and respect and accept their differences. He believes that when this group of people work together like machines, positive changes and innovation will be created. We AGLA associates are incredibly lucky to spend 12 months in this foreign, but beautiful city. I look forward to discovering Jack’s mission, vision, and values in ourselves. With our Alibaba-minted work ethic, we shall spread our wings and serve as leaders in shaping the rapidly changing world to help create a better future.
Having lived and studied in Seoul, Paris, and the US, Eun ‘Anna’ Kim is a global citizen passionate about exchanging cross-cultural experiences and building bridges among different backgrounds inside and outside of Alibaba. Prior to joining the company, Anna was a Senior Director of Business Development at a global digital marketing agency, responsible for connecting international luxury brands to consumers via social media platforms. Currently based in Hangzhou, Anna is looking forward to perfecting her Mandarin, absorbing the company’s culture and offerings, and adding value to Alibaba’s ever growing businesses as a key contributor and team player. Anna is interested in art, foreign languages, skiing, and traveling. Fluent in Korean and English, she is an alumna of St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire and Wellesley College in Boston.