Interested in global leadership? Here are the books and articles you should add to your reading list this month.
Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built
By Duncan Clark (HarperCollins, $29.99)
Alibaba is sometimes compared to Amazon but it is a bit different: it operates as a portal for retailers rather than a seller itself. In the space of a few years it has grown huge.When Alibaba went public in 2014 it raised US$25 billion, making it the largest IPO in history.
Alibaba’s competitive edge was based on what Ma calls the “iron triangle” business plan: e-commerce, logistics and finance. The company was founded on a “customers first, employees second and shareholders third” philosophy. This might seem odd to Western, shareholder-centric eyes, but Ma argues it has allowed the company to develop long-term strategies – and the good returns for investors have been enough to prove the point.
When the 2008 global financial crisis hit, China’s economic focus turned inward to boost its own economy instead of relying on exports. Again, it was the right place, right time for Ma. He might not know how to program a computer but he knows how to listen to people and, crucially, how to ask the right questions. And therein, perhaps, lies the core of leadership.
Author Duncan Clark notes that Alibaba is now facing threats from home-grown competitors but it is also looking overseas. Ma sees the Cloud as the next frontier for growth, and one of the ways for Alibaba to grow beyond its retail roots. He still has many working years in front of him, and no shortage of ideas.
Leadership in Action
By John Cantwell (Melbourne University Press, $25)