Jack Ma shows how tables have turned

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2011, 12:00am


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Jack Ma dropped a bombshell last week. The boss of Alibaba, the giant sourcing portal from the mainland, said he was interested in taking over Yahoo, the struggling US web service company.

If he outbids other rival suitors, it would be another feather in the cap of the mainland internet mogul, one that even Microsoft failed to win when Yahoo fought off a hostile bid by the software giant in 2008.

When Ma first allowed Yahoo to take up a substantial stake in his company years ago, he was a student looking for an American mentor in the new age of internet business. Jerry Yang, a co-founder of Yahoo, was then celebrated in Hong Kong and the mainland partly because he was a Chinese-American.

Relations between the two companies have since soured.

Now, the table has turned. Despite recent troubles at Alibaba, the mainland company clearly has the upper hand. Ma has become the Chinese face of internet business in the US, while Yahoo - adrift with its sprawling services that don't seem to have a coherent plan - has never managed to regain its lost glory.

Ma, with his open shirt and informal dress, and fluent English, looks the part of the internet entrepreneur, even if some of his more questionable business moves mark him squarely as a mainland businessman.

The long tango between Alibaba and Yahoo encapsulates the rise of China in the age of the internet and globalisation. Just as Yahoo failed to make business headway in China, Alibaba is expanding in the US.

Of course, there is no place for hubris. Japanese companies were taking over large segments of the US economy in the 1980s. Look where they are now.