In 1988, Ma Yun graduated with a Bachelor of Art in English from Hangzhou Teacher’s University. Located in the capital city of Zhejiang Province, Hangzhou Teacher’s University, like all universities in China, only offer their entrance exams once.
Ma Yun took four years to pass his entrance exams.
Even after finishing with a degree, Ma Yun struggled to find a stable job.
Throughout the struggle, Ma Yun kept searching for something that would work for him.
Then he found the internet.
On a trip to the United States in the mid-90s, Ma Yun discovered the burgeoning internet. This thing that could connect people across great distances was truly fascinating to him.
More surprising than the internet’s capabilities, was the fact that he couldn’t find any information on China by searching the internet.
To solve this problem, Ma Yun began creating web pages. Soon, other businesses and executives approached him to create web pages for them. And Ma Yun was off on an adventure that would change his life.
But you already know Ma Yun.
As a teenager, Ma Yun would travel to the hotels in Hangzhou city, where foreign tourists would stay when they visited the city. He’d offer to give tours for cash as a way to support his impoverished family. These tours also afforded him another opportunity- honing his English.
Thanks to these tours, Ma Yun landed a few pen pals. One of them, finding his name hard to pronounce, gave him a nickname.
From Failure to Billionaire
Although he did land a job as a teacher, Jack Ma worked on his technology endeavors as well. Soon he created a company that is China’s answer to Amazon– Alibaba.
Thanks to this company, as well as Ma’s relentless pursuit to improve, Ma would become one of the wealthiest men in the world.
Now, as he turns 54, Jack Ma is looking to retire from Alibaba.
He’s expressed interest in returning to teaching.
While he has announced his intentions to retire, he’s not out of the company just yet. Reports say he’ll remain with the company for one year before stepping down. During that time he’s going to create a succession plan to find and groom the right leader to take his place at Alibaba. It’s unclear if that person has already been chosen or if Ma is starting from scratch.
What is clear is that Ma’s making another in a long line of smart moves for his company. And yet, he struggled in school.
What does that say about the current methods for assessing intelligence?
Jack Ma To Lead the Way
By deciding to take the time to find the appropriate successor, Ma’s ensuring Alibaba has a shot at remaining viable after he leaves.
When Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were ousted from Apple and Microsoft, respectively, both companies underwent a short of “identity crisis.” They lost the “it” that made them what they were. Simon Sinek calls it their “why,” that goal they’re always striving for.
When Jobs and Gates returned to their companies, they managed to get them back on track. And then they worked to ensure there was a succession plan in place in their respective companies so as not to create the same crisis again.
And so far, it’s worked.
For Ma to be taking those steps now shows just how much he’s learned from others. And more importantly, others’ mistakes.
As Ma gets ready for the next phase of his life, it’ll be interesting to see what he plans to do.
Now that he’s got the means, and he wants to teach, may we’ll see a revolution in education?
And who better to start a revolution in education than a failed teacher?