question archive The Alibaba Group is China’s largest e-commerce company

The Alibaba Group is China’s largest e-commerce company

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The Alibaba Group is China’s largest e-commerce company. Its main platforms—Taobao, Tmall, and Alipay—offer the largest online market place for Chinese businesses and consumers to connect.76 Alibaba has evolved into a business giant with company acquisitions reaching into an array of industries such as entertainment, real estate, mobile technology, and finance. Its recent IPO on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) reflects its dominance in the area. Wall Street history was made when the company raised $25 billion as capital. No longer confined to the emerging online markets of China, Alibaba now plays on an international level with plans to compete for customers from around the world. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder and executive chairman, fuels the motivation and inspiration for the company’s competitive spirit. Alibaba’s bedrocks rest in his desires for making dreams come true and for creating a lively atmosphere where employees strive for success as a family. These ideals can be traced back to the company’s roots. Ma, along with 17 co-founders, launched the Alibaba Web site from his humble six-room apartment. In his living room, the determined group set out to not only become one of the world’s top Internet companies, but to also be one that will survive for 102 years. Ma and his team’s ‘innovative spirit’ believed that together they could achieve the extraordinary by valuing the customer and focusing on the future. The company now has over 34,000 employees and continues to grow; and Ma’s motto of ‘customer first, employee second, and shareholder third’ holds true even today. Alibaba’s leaders try hard to maintain the culture that was established during those first days in Ma’s apartment. Despite having offices worldwide and a 17.2 acre campus for its headquarters, the company seeks to retain a transparent environment where employees are encouraged to challenge ideas at all levels. Each employee adopts a nickname to help reduce a sense of hierarchy in hopes of spurring innovative dialogue. Annual events, such as Alifest, celebrate employees and customer unity. During these jovial celebrations, Ma has been known to wear dazzling costumes and sing. Employees are taken care of beyond their paychecks with access to benefits like iHome, Alibaba’s own mortgage fund used to fund interest-free loans for employees. Despite such motivators, the company faces various challenges related to retention. Losing employees who possess critical knowledge threaten its long- term vision despite attracting new talent. With over a quarter of its employees owning company shares, the temptation to cash out and walk away is common as the company rides the waves of the Wall Street. In response, Ma has penned letters to employees not to forget the company’s ideal of keeping the customer first and to consider the longer journey. Ma cautions employees to be careful of wealth’s seductive side and to keep the greater good at heart. Such talk is reflected in Ma’s actions and statements. Now one of the world’s leading billionaires, Ma keeps his focus on motivations beyond just money. He has set up numerous charities focusing on education, the environment, and health. In a recent presentation to the Economic Club of New York, he reflected on how happiness does not always come with money indicating that some of his happiest times occurred when he was making $12 a month as an English school teacher. The question that remains is whether these ideals keep Alibaba on its path towards 102 years.

Where would equity theory be relevant in Alibaba’s history? Having read this case, which motivational theory do you feel most represents Ma’s ability to lead his team to overcome all odds?

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