From an English teacher to the richest man in China: the struggles that Alibaba’s Jack Ma faced on the road to success


As kids, we have been told several stories of determination and hard work, stories that left us awestruck and amazed. Adding to this list, or perhaps revisiting it, let’s look at the life of a man who has taken the world economy and the entire Chinese internet industry by storm.

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Jack Ma, the Founder of Alibaba Group, is also the richest man in China, with a net worth of $27.9 billion. Ma certainly wasn’t hit by success overnight. An exemplar of humility and hard work, he has an interesting story behind his success. Perhaps the most exceptional quality that he possessed was an ability to overcome failure gracefully. After all, how many of us keep our optimism intact in the face of constant failure? Here are the multiple failures that Jack Ma faced on the road to success:

He was a poor student

In his early childhood, Ma failed his primary school examination twice, his middle school exams thrice, and his university entrance exams thrice before joining Hangzhou Normal University.

In his college entrance exam, he got an appalling score of less than one percent in the math portion of his college entrance exam. “I am not good at math, have never studied management, and still cannot read accounting reports,” he once remarked.

But none of this stopped him from reaching where he is today.

He was rejected by multiple jobs

Ma’s persistence and determination is exemplified by the fact that he was rejected for 30 jobs and still kept trying. What’s more, he was the only one to be rejected out of 24 KFC applicants!

He was also one of the five applicants for a job in the police force and was the only one who got rejected after being told that he was “no good”.

He was rejected by Harvard 10 times

He wrote to Harvard 10 times and was rejected every single time. Anyone else would have felt dejected by then, but Jack Ma used these rejections as an opportunity to learn. If this isn’t optimism, then what is?

He was criticised for running an ‘unprofitable model’

In 1999, Ma created Alibaba with a group of friends but couldn’t convince Silicon Valley to fund it. At one point, Alibaba was just 18 months away from bankruptcy. For the first three years, Alibaba made zero revenue. In September 2014, Alibaba went public at $92.70 per share, making it the biggest US IPO in history.

In 2009 and 2014, Ma was named one of Time's 100 most influential people. He was also chosen as one of ‘China's Most Powerful People’ by Business Week. Ma is the first mainland Chinese entrepreneur to appear on the cover of Forbes.

The thing about Jack Ma is that his success didn't make him forget his humble beginnings. He never fails to pay respect to those for whom he owes his success.

In Jack Ma’s own words “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”