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Tsinghua Student Dialogue with Jack Ma, Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba
Jul 13, 2020

Wendy Yue Wang, GMBA Class of 2017

This article is part of a series covering Tsinghua Student Dialogues with Advisory Board Members. These dialogues took place on October 20, 2016, in association with the larger Tsinghua SEM 2016 Advisory Board Meeting.

Mr. Jack Ma, Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group and member of Tsinghua SEM's Advisory Board, stepped out of the boardroom and into the classroom to the great anticipation of a packed audience of Tsinghua SEM students. The title of Mr. Ma’s lecture was, “The Spirit and Future of the Entrepreneur.” Around 100 Tsinghua EMBA and MBA students attended the lecture and had insightful discussions with Mr. Ma after the lecture.  

“It is crucial for Alibaba to find the foundation from Chinese culture,” Mr. Ma said. When discussing an understanding of cultural self-confidence, he emphasized that the enterprise’s culture of self-confidence should be based on understanding, respect, and inclusion.

As a highly successful entrepreneur himself, Mr. Ma suggested that the key to a spirit of leadership is in the right way of managing people, in which he says he has been inspired by Taoism and Confucianism. The book of Tao Te Ching, which he noted having read through at least five times, strongly influenced his own management style.

During his speech, Mr. Ma argued that our universities need to rebuild that culture of self-confidence, and more importantly, to improve the innovation mindset and capability to match with this fast-changing world. Although China’s tech industry is far better-known, far more creative, and far more successful than it was 10 years ago, China is still often criticized for lacking innovation.

In discussing the education system in China, Mr. Ma made a very interesting argument using the Chinese term for education “jiaoyu” (“教育”) – a compound word consisting of two characters. The first character, “jiao” (“教”), means teach and refers to teaching, pedagogy, and what happens in the classroom. The second, “yu” (“育”), means foster or nourish and here refers to the broader process of raising a child both in and out of the classroom. He considered China’s jiao a fine practice, but the problem, he believes, is with the yu. In terms of jiao, China’s students test better than anyone in the world, but yu is about fostering culture and EQ. Currently, many of China’s future potential innovators are so tied to textbooks during their student years that they never really get the chance to experiment and grow from an outside-the-classroom learning environment. Innovation, Mr. Ma suggests, will only come regularly if we rethink our culture and our yu

In the much-anticipated Q&A section, students were interested to hear about the business trends in the coming 20 years. With his vision, Mr. Ma stressed that new data (big data), new culture, new finance, new energy, and new ideology will be the five fundamental changes in the next 20 years. We look forward to seeing how these major shifts shape our careers, our leadership, and even the yu we pass on to future generations, including the GMBA cohorts to come.


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