As Wall Street prepares for the initial public offering of Chinese e-Commerce giant Alibaba Group, many in the U.S. are taking a look at its founder Jack Ma for the first time — and what they are finding is pretty darn quirky.
Ma is a larger-than-life figure who has been likened to the godfather of Chinese entrepreneurship and attracted the loyalty of employees and customers alike with a showmanship that sometimes borders on the bizarre.
Ma founded the company in his apartment in 1999, turning it into a company that has the potential to be the largest tech IPO in history. And during that time, Ma became something like a cult icon within the company — often performing during the group's annual "Alifest" conferences, and doing annual mass blessings of newlyweds.
In a memorable appearance celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the company in 2009, Ma performed part of the Lion King tune "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" in full hair metal regalia — and shared the stage with a Marilyn Monroe lookalike. That same year, former president Bill Clinton was among the speakers at the conference.
Ma performed again last year, this time singing the pop song "I love you, China" in front of 40,000 employees and customers at a Hangzhou stadium to celebrate the end of his tenure as CEO of the company. This time, he appeared in a more subdued metallic jacket and Buddy Holly glasses. Ma remains chairman of Alibaba, and has an 8.9 percent ownership stake in the company, according to the IPO filing submitted yesterday.
In a letter circulated internally last year, Ma compared his personality to '80s alien film icon ET. “Succeeding a founder CEO is a difficult job, especially taking over from a CEO with such a distinct personality who is very ‘ET’-like; this requires great courage and the willingness to make sacrifices," he wrote.
Here is a picture of Ma demonstrating his Tai Chi prowess at the opening ceremony of the Tai Chi school: