Jack Ma on Alibaba's Hollywood Ambitions, Growth Outlook

Jack Ma Laker Game - H 2014
AP Images

Jack Ma Laker Game - H 2014

The chairman of the Chinese e-commerce giant also tells Charlie Rose at the World Economic Forum in Davos about his relationship with the government and why women are key to the company's success.

Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma on Friday discussed his Hollywood ambitions and said his company was still in its early stages of growth.

Speaking in a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he also discussed the Chinese e-commerce giant’s relationship with the country’s government and why so many women work for the company.

Charlie Rose interviewed Ma in the session, entitled “An Insight, An Idea with Jack Ma," which was webcast.

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Asked about his interest in Hollywood, Ma said: “Hollywood gives me a lot of inspiration.” He also said: “I like the Hollywood innovation. I learn so much [through] the Hollywood movies, especially Forrest Gump.”

He has previously called the movie with Tom Hanks his favorite, explaining on Friday: “I love Forrest Gump.” Asked why, he said the main character was “simple” and had an attention he loves: “Never give up.” Ma said that when he saw the film, he drew a lesson for his business. “This is the guy we should learn from,” he explained. “We don’t have a rich father, powerful uncle. We don’t have $1 from a bank, 1 cent from the government. Just work as a team.”

The company has started first project at its Alibaba Pictures film unit. Rose also mentioned Ma’s recent trip to Hollywood and said that was clearly a sign in Alibaba’s business interest in the entertainment industry.

May responded that movies were indeed interesting to him “business-wise,” explaining: “We are an e-commerce company. We have a lot of products that need logistics, but movie, TV don’t need a logistics system. And [a] movie probably is the best product that can help Chinese young people.”

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Ma explained that Alibaba would be, at least in part, about changing how people in China define and see heroes. “In American movies, all the heroes at the beginning look like a bad guy,” he said. “A terrible thing is coming, they become a hero, and they all survive. In China, if you are the hero, all the heroes die … so nobody wants to be the hero. Today we have so many heroes who live in this world.”

He didn’t provide further details on the company’s film strategy.

Ma also said he reads kung-fu stories, “and I started to write something.” He didn’t provide further details.

Asked about Alibaba's size and growth outlook, he told Rose: "Compared to 15 years ago, we are big. But compared to 15 years [from now], we are still a baby,"

He also discussed how Alibaba employs a lot of women. "One of secret sauces of Alibaba is we have a lot of women," he said, saying that 47 percent of the overall staff and 33 percent of people in senior roles were women. Argued Ma: "Women think about others more than themselves," which is key for Alibaba and its ability to serve users.

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Asked about criticism about Alibaba's relationship with the Chinese government and suggestions that it has helped shield it from competition, Ma said the relationship was "interesting." He added that he told his team to love or respect the government, but "don’t marry them."

He mentioned that Alibaba helped with ticket sales for an annual spring festival after the official system crashed. "I told my team to do it," he said. "It’s not for the money or the government. It’s for the millions and millions of people."