Zhang Ying, the wife of Alibaba founder Jack Ma; “Ma Yun is not a handsome man, but I fell for him because he can do a lot of things handsome men cannot do”

Zhang Ying, the wife of Alibaba founder Jack Ma

Staff Reporter


Zhang Ying-162034_copy1

Zhang Ying is the wife of Ma Yun, the billionaire founder and former chairman of Chinese internet giant Alibaba.

Zhang met Ma at the Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute, now known as Hangzhou Normal University, when the two were students. The couple married shortly after graduating in the late 1980s and both began working as teachers. “Ma Yun is not a handsome man, but I fell for him because he can do a lot of things handsome men cannot do,” Zhang said. Despite being named as one of the 10 best young teachers in Hangzhou, Ma decided to quit his job and open his own translation company. In 1995, Ma started China Yellowpages, widely believed to be one of China’s first internet-based company, before setting up Alibaba, China’s first business-to-business commerce website, in 1999, along with 16 other partners.Zhang also quit her job to support her husband and join Alibaba as the company’s “political commissar.” However, Zhang said she spent most of the company’s early days cooking meals for the attendees of her husband’s impromptu meetings at all hours of the day and running odd errands.

A couple of years later, Zhang asked her husband how much money the company had made, and Ma raised a single finger. “Ten million yuan (US$1.6 million)?” Zhang asked, and Ma said no. “A hundred million (US$16 million)?” she asked, and Ma said no again. “One million (US$160,000),” Ma said to Zhang’s disappointment, until he added, “a day.”

All the time and effort Zhang and Ma spent on Alibaba took its toll at home. Zhang admitted that they had effectively “sacrificed” their son, born in 1992, for the sake of the company, sending him to child care five days a week and only seeing him on weekends.

In 2002, when Zhang was the general manager of Alibaba’s China headquarters, her 10-year-old son became addicted to online gaming and spent most of his time in internet cafes. He told his parents that it was pointless coming home because they were never there anyway.

Concerned about their son, Ma asked Zhang to step down as general manager and re-dedicate herself to becoming a full-time housewife. Our family needs you more now than the company, Ma had told her, asking her to choose between money and their son.

At first, Zhang was not happy with the request. She said she felt like Ma was treating herlike a chess piece — when they first married she had been set on becoming a housewife, but was “tricked” into joining Alibaba, but when the company finally became successful he wanted her to go back to being a housewife.

Eventually, Zhang learned to embrace the role. She now starts off her day making breakfast for her son before taking him to school and heading out to buy groceries and prepare for dinner.

Ma has been appreciative of Zhang’s sacrifice and attibuted his success both at Alibaba and at home to her. “She helps me a lot with my career and family,” he said.

Alibaba is now one China’s number one e-commerce company with a market value of US$4 billion.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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