Ma, speaking in the Indonesian resort island of Bali last week, recalled a hiring mistake he made in the early days of Alibaba.
"When I raised my first round of funds, it was $5 million. I hired a lot of vice presidents from multinational companies. One of the VPs of marketing came to me, he gave me a proposal, he said: 'Sir, this is our next year's business marketing plan,'" Ma said at the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
As it turned out, that plan was designed to cost $12 million — way over the spending budget that the company could afford back then, Ma explained. But that employee admitted that he had never done a business plan below $10 million.
"So I said: 'Alright, it's not his fault, it's my fault,'" Ma said, adding that he realized his decision to hire those people then was akin to placing a Boeing 747 engine into a tractor.