Arabian Tales

(171206) -- GUANGZHOU, Dec. 6, 2017 (Xinhua) -- Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, speaks at a thematic meeting entitled "New Frontiers" during the 2017 Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province, Dec. 6, 2017. (Xinhua/Liu Dawei)(mcg)

Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, speaks at a thematic meeting entitled “New Frontiers” during the 2017 Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, China. (Xinhua)


Generations in India have grown listening to the “The Arabian Tales” (“One Thousand and One Nights”). The story of Aladdin, Sindbad, and of course, the story of Alibaba and the Forty Thieves; all of them carried a universal appeal. Each fable read aloud to young children before bedtime always had a moral to it.

There is yet another story that elders narrate to their children: “Robert the Bruce and the Spider”, which is a story of perseverance.

Hundreds of years ago, there was a king of Scotland and his name was Robert the Bruce. It was a good thing that he was both brave and wise, because the times in which he lived were wild and dangerous. The King of England, who was at war with him, had led a great army into Scotland to drive him out of the land and make Scotland part of England.

Robert Bruce lay defeated in a cave, in hiding after six wars. The victory and independence of Scotland is traced back to a spider that kept trying again and again to spin a web. The spider succeeded in spinning the web after falling six times from the roof of the cave. This inspired Robert of Scotland, who finally won the seventh war, establishing his own kingdom.

In this 21st century, if there is one man who emulated King Robert Bruce, it is Jack Ma. He was born as the second child in 1964, to musician story-teller parents in Hangzhou, China.

Working as a tourist guide in China in the 70s, he learnt to use the English language though he had already failed twice in his primary school exams. Ma failed three times in his middle school exams before finally passing. Again, rejected three times in university entrance exams, and ten times by Harvard University, he finally graduated from Hangzhou University with an English degree. Ma was often told, “you are no good” when he applied for a job as a policeman, and he was rejected 30 more times when he applied for other jobs.

But now, Jack Ma stands tall as the e-commerce giant, and he is the second richest man in China. Just like Alibaba in the famous “Arabian Nights”, Ma learnt the magic words, “Open Sesame”, while watching businessmen from the side-lines.


In an interview, Jack Ma explained, “One day, I was in San Francisco in a coffee shop, and I was thinking, ‘Alibaba is a good name’. And then a waitress came, and I said, ‘Do you know about Alibaba?’ And she said yes. I said, ‘What do you know about?’, and she said, ‘Open Sesame’. And I said, ‘Yes, this is the name!’. Then I went on to the street and found 30 people and asked them, ‘Do you know Alibaba?’ People from India, people from Germany, people from Tokyo and China … they all knew about Alibaba. Alibaba—open sesame. The name was so well known, so easy to spell, and was a person who was kind. He was also a smart business person and helped the villagers. So…now Alibaba, [my company] “opens sesame” for small to medium-sized companies”.

In December 1999, Jack Ma and 17 other founders released their first online marketplace, named “Alibaba Online”.

In the short period of just seventeen years; on July 2017, Alibaba became the first Asian company to break the US$400 billion-value mark. It has become the world’s largest online business-to-business trading platform for small businesses.

E-commerce giant Alibaba’s chief executive officer Daniel Zhang said India is a very important market to the company in its global strategy. “Globalization is one of our key strategies for Alibaba. As part of this strategy, India is a very important topic. India is a very important market for us to look at,” he said continuing, “Before entering any new market, we ask ourselves how we can help the local market. For a market like India, the key aspect of our strategy is to help the local enterprises grow”.

“We have invested in Paytm. We are very happy to see digital payment becoming so popular in India. This is one of the best examples to demonstrate how we want to help the local markets grow” Zhang explained.

Today Alibaba Group is among the top 10 biggest companies in the world. In reality, there is not much in common between “Alibaba”, the second son of a merchant of the Arabian fable of Baghdad, and Jack Ma of China. But one thing that is shared is the password Alibaba of the fable learnt from forty thieves to open the cave of riches, “Open Sesame.”

Instead, the story of King Robert Bruce of Scotland’s perseverance fits Jack Ma perfectly. In spite of so many failures, Jack Ma has been relentless in weaving the proverbial web in the world of business and succeeding like the spider passionately spinning its web.

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