Power Players

Why Jack Ma says he'd never get a job at Alibaba today

Jack Ma, CEO of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, speaks during his visit at the Vivatech startups and innovation fair, in Paris on May 16, 2019.
Philippe Lopez | AFP | Getty Images

Billionaire entrepreneur Jack Ma founded Alibaba — one of China's most successful technology companies.

But even he would have a tough time securing a job there today, he said.

And it's not just Alibaba. The e-commerce visionary said he and most of the other founders would struggle to pass the initial screening for many of the world's most desirable companies.

"People like me, today, if I tried to apply (for a) job in Alibaba, it's almost impossible," Ma said at the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Singapore.

That's because of a flaw in the international employment system, which places too much emphasis on academic results and unfairly pits out-of-box thinkers against traditional ones, he said.

"People judge you by your diploma," said Ma. "They would think 'hey, we're got a group of people from Harvard, we've got people from Stanford, and you are from nowhere."

Our kids will never be able to survive because of the education we teach.
Jack Ma
founder of Alibaba

Ma — who struggled through school and was famously rejected from 30 jobs before he started Alibaba in 1999 — said he'd encountered numerous highly capable people who were rebuffed from good jobs simply because they failed to perform academically.

"I've found a lot of entrepreneurs like me," said Ma, noting two former colleagues, now founders of Alipay and Taobao, who failed to get into MBA courses because they did not pass the math exams.

Such academic checklists are becoming increasingly irrelevant in the fast-evolving digital age, he said.

"In the industrial (era), you had to remember faster, you have to remember more, you have to calculate faster. These are the things machines can now do much better than you," said Ma.

"That is something I worry about. 20, 30 years on, our kids will never be able to survive because of the education we teach," said Ma.

The 55-year-old, who retired as Alibaba's executive chairman last month, said he now plans do philanthropic work in the education sector to better prepare the next generation for the shifting landscape by encouraging greater independent thinking.

"We (have to) teach our kids how to be innovative, constructive and creative so they can survive in the AI (artificial intelligence) period. I want to do more things about that," said Ma, a former English teacher.

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