The founder of Alibaba, one of the worlds biggest online retailers, made the promise at a pre-inauguration meeting with Donald Trump
Jack Ma was destined to live an ordinary life. He failed the Chinese university entrance exam several times before being accepted by the worst school in Hangzhou, and he was rejected from a dozen jobs even selling chicken at KFC. Ma was ready to settle into a quiet lifeas an English teacher in eastern China, a position with few advancement prospects, when, during a trip to Seattle in 1995 working as a translator for a trade delegation, everything changed.
A friend showed Ma the internet. He placed a toe on to the information superhighway with a one-word search beer and, two decades later, Ma is the richest man in Asia, head of an e-commerce and finance empire that includes Alibaba, one of the largest retailers in the world.
Now Ma has once again set his sights on the US. In a high-profile meeting with Donald Trump before the inauguration, Ma promised to create 1m jobs in the US, and has wasted no time ingratiating himself into Trumps inner circle. He has dined alone with Ivanka Trump, and last week commerce secretary Wilbur Ross sat next to Ma at a meeting of US and Chinese businessmen. Those political connections may benefit him as he seeks to acquire American companies in a country that is increasingly wary of big Chinese investment.
For Trump, the headlines of Mas job-creating scheme may be more important that any actual jobs created.
As a merchant, its about knowing your customer, and Trump doesnt care about anything thats not huge, says Duncan Clark, a longtime friend and author of Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built. He figured a million is a good number to get Trumps attention. Realistically, without a major acquisition, I fail to see how thats possible, he adds. In the US context, its a very big number.
For years, Ma has been pushing his vision of US small businesses selling to Chinese shoppers through his online marketplaces. He is often called the Jeff Bezos of China, and there are clear similarities. Both built e-commerce empires and, like Bezos and the Washington Post, Ma even owns a an old established newspaper, in his case Hong Kongs South China Morning Post.
But theres a key difference: while Bezoss Amazon sells products to consumers, maintaining massive warehouses and operating a sophisticated logistics network, Alibabas sites are simply a medium, connecting consumers with merchants who ship through independent couriers. This has led experts to say Alibabas business model is closer to Googles than Amazons.
Alibabas strength has always been solving inefficiencies, creating a website that allowed a host of businesses to sell directly to consumers during the infancy of the internet in China and starting an online payment system when it was cumbersome to wire funds. The companys flagship platforms, Taobao (similar to eBay) and Tmall (similar to Amazon), have created a one-stop shop for consumers, and Alibaba is exporting the model to emerging markets such as Russia andBrazil.