The cover of Brian’s book
The Tao of Alibaba author, Brian A. Wong was invited by UTAR to give a talk titled “The Tao of Alibaba: Rethinking a business paradigm for the world” to the staff and students on 19 June 2023 via Zoom platform. The talk was organised by UTAR Centre for Economic Studies (CES), the Centre for International Studies (CIS) and the Department of Entrepreneurship and Supply Chain Management of the Faculty of Business and Finance. Around 60 participants attended the talk. The moderator for the talk was FBF academic Dr Chen Fanyu.
Brian Wong sharing his view and experience at Alibaba
Brian Wong began his talk by highlighting his entry into the Alibaba Group in 1999. He said, “At that point in time, China only had eight million internet users, a per capita GDP of $800, and less than one per cent involvement in global e-commerce. However, recent data from 2022 demonstrated a remarkable transformation. China now boasts over 1 billion internet users, a per capita GDP of $12,000, and nearly 50% participation in global e-commerce. This notable progress can be attributed to Alibaba’s role as a catalyst for e-commerce in China, supported by favourable regulations and societal conditions.” Brian Wong witnessed the country’s transition to a cashless society and the emergence of new retail trends like Hema, food delivery services, and live streaming sales.
Brian Wong explaining the transitions that took place in China
According to Brian Wong, the word Tao in Chinese can be translated as Path or Way. It can also be interpreted as harmony or interconnectedness, embracing contradictions. Brian Wong then shared his view and experience on how Tao was used by Alibaba to become a large company.
He explained, “Speaking of Path or Way, the founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, effectively established and communicated the company’s mission, vision, and values, which went beyond mere Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Alibaba aimed to use the internet to empower small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), create jobs, and level the playing field for entrepreneurs worldwide. Jack Ma’s ability to convey this altruistic mission attracted employees who were motivated by the opportunity to make a positive impact while also building a successful business. The company’s mission, vision, and values were consistently shared with both new and existing employees, fostering a sense of purpose and unity within the organisation.”
Elucidating on Harmony and Interconnectedness, he said, “Alibaba’s rapid growth was influenced by key external factors such as China’s large population, social stability, investment in infrastructure, and government’s light-touch policy. The company’s decisions have consistently considered the impact on stakeholders. Alibaba connected manufacturers and buyers globally through its wholesale marketplace, adapted to China’s shift towards domestic consumption through Taobao.com, and transformed the economy with Alipay’s digital payment tools and financial services.”
“Embracing contradictions is the profound aspect of Alibaba’s philosophy. It provides the company with flexibility in problem-solving by shifting between opposing concepts. Alibaba’s strategy combines a charitable heart with business techniques, blends Eastern philosophy with Western management processes, and focuses on serving small businesses to become the world’s largest e-commerce ecosystem. The company’s value of ‘Live seriously, work happily’ emphasises on the importance of aligning personal aspirations with fulfilling work. Embracing contradictions opened up new possibilities and shaped Alibaba’s unique approach to decision-making,” he added.
Brian Wong explaining Tao
Before ending the talk, Brian Wong said, “According to Jack Ma, the Love Quotient (LQ) is a critical element of leadership. It refers to leaders’ compassion and empathy towards others, while creating an environment that empowers and develops their staff. Jack Ma’s background as a teacher and his own experiences with rejection motivated him to help the underserved and marginalised through technology. Alibaba’s focus on customers’ success, employees’ satisfaction and shareholders’ interests led to the company’s immense success and positive societal impact. Small businesses thrived, women became prominent business owners, digital payments empowered underserved populations, and rural communities prospered. The Alibaba story demonstrates that doing good for both business and society is possible and can lead to profitability and positive change.”
Brian Wong sharing the important lessons he learnt at Alibaba
The staff and students of UTAR were actively engaged during the Q&A session. They were seen asking a lot of questions. The talk concluded with a group photo captured by a snapshot. UTAR expressed its hope for Brian Wong to visit the campus in the future.
Brian Wong (left) answering a question from the audience
A snapshot taken after the Q&A session
Brian Wong was born in Palo Alto, California. He was the first American and the 52nd employee to join the Alibaba Group, where he contributed to the company’s early globalisation efforts and served as Jack Ma’s special assistant for international affairs. He was appointed as the vice president of the Alibaba Group in 2014. During his 16-year tenure, Brian Wong established the Alibaba Global Initiatives (AGI) Division. He was the founder and executive director of the Alibaba Global Leadership Academy. Brian Wong remains an adviser to the AGI team and regularly teaches courses on China’s digital economy and the Tao of Alibaba management principles. Brian Wong founded RADII, a digital media platform dedicated to bridging understanding between East and West.