Alibaba's Jack Ma 'happier' making US$12 a month than living as a billionaire tycoon

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2015, 2:42pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2015, 4:27pm

Alibaba Group founder and chairman Jack Ma Yun said on Tuesday that he was happier as an English teacher earning US$12 a month than he is dealing with the responsibility of being a business tycoon and one of China’s richest men.

He told the Economics Club of New York that his life has become much more complicated since he took his company, China’s leading e-commerce platform, public last year on the New York Stock Exchange. 

"The money I have today is a responsibility. It's the trust of people on me," said Ma, who is also known for his philanthropic efforts. 

"If I had another life, I would keep my company private,” he added.

Alibaba's US$25 billion IPO ranked as the world’s biggest to date and made Ma the wealthiest man in China, a title reports say he has been swapping this year with energy magnate Li Hejun.

His current net worth is reported to be upwards of US$22.2 billion, but he said that his fortune meant he had to spend "on behalf of society". 

Last year, he created a philanthropic trust focusing on health care, the environment and education, among other areas. He also donated share options amounting to US$2.4 billion.

Ma described his career as a lowly paid teacher in the late 1980s in Hangzhou, a leafy city in east China’s wealthy Zhejiang province, as a “fantastic” period in light of the weight of responsibility he now shoulders.

During his luncheon speech, which took place amid a swing through the US aimed at courting American businesses, he encouraged small companies to make use of Alibaba’s platforms to sell their products to China’s emerging middle class.

The group’s most famous platform, Taobao, is hailed as China’s answer to eBay. China’s top online marketplace has become the default online mall for vast swathes of Chinese internet users.

Yet Ma stressed that he does not intend to compete with US e-commerce platforms such as eBay or Amazon.

“The opportunity and strategy for us is helping small business in America go to China, sell their products in China. We need more American products in China. We have … 100 million people coming to buy everyday,” he said. 

Addressing concerns about counterfeit goods that have recently plagued Taobao, Ma said he is working with Chinese authorities to resolve the issue. Measures include closing online stores and dedicating more manpower to verify the authenticity of goods being traded on the site.

He also discussed how he chose to list Alibaba in the US after first being rejected by the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The e-commerce giant’s partnership structure was not approved by Hong Kong authorities.

Alibaba generates about 90 per cent of its revenue in China.  In the first quarter of 2015, this grew 39 per cent to US$2.2 billion.

The money it made from overseas transactions jumped 27 per cent over the same period to US$264 million.

Additional reporting by Reuters