Book Review: Alibaba, The House Jack Ma Built or Jack Ma, The Man Alibaba Built? – Gideon Chukwuemeka Ogbonna

Numbers can easily get boring. I’m often lost during the business segment of the news. Often lost in the sea of shares, stocks, market capitalization, opening price, closing price, and a host of other financial jargon. However, by exploring the life one man, Duncan Clark writes a financial masterpiece, and makes you enjoy it.

The book is a typical grass to grace story. But what makes this story stand out is the charismatic, contrarian nature of Jack Ma—his zen approach to business. The business world has its rules. And you ought to abide by the rules if you want to win. But what happens when you see a man who played the game by his own rules, and won?

“Duncan Clark writes a financial masterpiece, and makes you enjoy it.”

What draws you to Alibaba: The House Jack Ma Built is its storytelling. In a biographical account of Jack Ma, Clark—a financial investor—provides key financial lessons. Clark would have easily written a book of financial nuggets laced intermittently with highlights from Jack Ma’s life. But given Jack Ma’s nature such book would have come across as impracticable. For instance, how do you convince a reader that the best way to outplay a competition isn’t by ploying to take them out, but by understanding them and holding on to your strong points? This would have easily been passed of as another motivational quote for business; one many would consider untrue. However, Clark recognizes stories as vehicles that help a writer step out of the conventional, mundane way of driving home a point. And with this vehicle, he shows us how Alibaba, in China, conquered a giant like eBay.

One thing fascinating about Clark’s writing is that it doesn’t pander to sycophancy by painting Jack Ma as a man who hasn’t made huge financial mistakes. While Ma may have an endearing personality, there are times he had fallen out with associates and made costly decisions which quite threatened the very existence of his company.

This exposition of flaws and regrets, coupled with an insightful final chapter titled, “Icon or Icarus,” creates the perfect balance for the book. “Icon or Icarus” describes an unpredictable Jack with a penchant for diversification and huge spending (investments) done almost without thoughts. This makes him an icon riding on the wings of his charisma and fame, but Clark wonders if there would come a time when he wouldn’t listen to the voice of reason and plunge headlong to earth. This final chapter leaves a room for ponder and prayer: Jack has shaped Alibaba with his persona, but will he allow Alibaba shape him? If Alibaba is the house Jack Ma built, will Jack Ma allow himself to be the man Alibaba Built?

Rating: 4/5

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