‘Alibaba: The house that Jack Ma built’ – business book review

The book cover of 'Alibaba The house that Jack Ma built' by Duncan Clark

Ryan Herman takes a look at Duncan Clark’s exploration of Alibaba, one of the world’s most successful companies…

In 2005, Alibaba, which claims to be the world’s biggest retailer, proposed an e-commerce deal with China’s state-owned China Post, only to be told to “stick to its own business”. The postal giant didn’t believe in express delivery. It resulted in the rise of private courier firms across the country.

This is one of many stories in Duncan Clark’s fascinating account designed to illustrate that Alibaba, founded by the eccentric Jack Ma, has continually confounded its detractors. Clark heads investment advisory firm BDA China and was as an adviser to Alibaba in its early days.

He is uniquely positioned to explain why the business has succeeded against the odds, how the 2008 crash provided the catalyst for consumerism in China and what the future may hold for Ma. Clark also reveals that he turned down the option to buy shares in Alibaba in 2003 and “this mushroomed into a $30m mistake”. Ouch!

‘Alibaba: The house that Jack Ma built’ – what the publisher says:

“An engrossing, insider’s account of how a teacher built one of the world’s most valuable companies—rivaling Walmart & Amazon—and forever reshaped the global economy.

In just a decade and half Jack Ma, a man from modest beginnings who started out as an English teacher, founded and built Alibaba into one of the world’s largest companies, an e-commerce empire on which hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers depend. Alibaba’s $25 billion IPO in 2014 was the largest global IPO ever. A Rockefeller of his age who is courted by CEOs and Presidents around the world, Jack is an icon for China’s booming private sector and the gatekeeper to hundreds of millions of middle class consumers.

Duncan Clark first met Jack in 1999 in the small apartment where Jack founded Alibaba. Granted unprecedented access to a wealth of new material including exclusive interviews, Clark draws on his own experience as an early advisor to Alibaba and two decades in China chronicling the Internet’s impact on the country to create an authoritative, compelling narrative account of Alibaba’s rise.

How did Jack overcome his humble origins and early failures to achieve massive success with Alibaba? How did he outsmart rival entrepreneurs from China and Silicon Valley? Can Alibaba maintain its 80% market share? As it forges ahead into finance and entertainment, are there limits to Alibaba’s ambitions?  How does the Chinese government view its rise?  Will Alibaba expand further overseas, including in the U.S.?

Clark tells Alibaba’s tale in the context of China’s momentous economic and social changes, illuminating an unlikely corporate titan as never before.”


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About author

Ryan Herman

Ryan Herman

Alongside his work for Director, Ryan has written for SportBusiness International, VICE Sports, Populous, Audi and Gallop Magazine and was previously editor of Sky Sports Magazine.

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