Here is the full transcript of Chinese billionaire and Alibaba’s founder, Jack Ma’s interview at An Insight, An Idea event at World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday, January 18, 2017.
Speakers at the event:
Andrew Ross Sorkin – Columnist for The New York Times (Interviewer)
Jack Ma – Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group
Interviewer: It is my privilege to be here this evening with Jack Ma, one of the great entrepreneurs of our time, of course, the founder of Alibaba and we have so many things to talk about over the next half an hour. And of course, we also want to try to get to your questions as well. We’re going to talk about Alibaba, of course, but also China, the Trump world that we all live in, globalization trade and so many other issues. But, first of all, thank you for joining us.
Jack Ma: Thank you so much.
Interviewer: Let me start with this, which is to say that you just spent some time inside Trump Tower, and went to go visit with Donald —
Jack Ma: Yeah.
Interviewer: Our President elect in the United States. Tell us about that meeting.
Jack Ma: Well, it’s a very productive meeting, much better than I thought, than I expected.
Interviewer: What did you expect?
Jack Ma: Well, I heard a lot and I watched like everybody, I watched all the news and heard a lot about him. So when I go inside, I saw, um, anything that — but he’s pretty sort of open minded, listened what I talked. So I think I’m very happy about the results, and finally, when he said, he offered, he said, ‘Jack, let me walk you down’. It seemed he’s very happy about the results we had.
Interviewer: Can I ask? How does a meeting like that happen? Do you call him, does he call you? Well, how does this take place?
Jack Ma: Well, that’s the question I’m asking myself, because some day I got some requests from people say, ‘Jack, do you want a meeting with the president-elect?’ I’d say, ‘Is that true enough?’ Because I’m not ready for that, because — I don’t know what to talk about. And then a few days later I got another request, I got several requests and then I saw one e-mail which was from a friend, it’s very sort of specific, I thought about it. I think yes, maybe I should go and I have to talk. And at least, I think president elect on the Trump would be happy to hear what I want to talk about. So I went.
Interviewer: And what did you tell him?
Jack Ma: Talk about the small business, talk about agricultural products, talk about the trade between China and the USA. Special focus on telling about how can we bring the small business in America sell them to China, to Asia, through our network, which can create a lot of jobs for them.
Interviewer: And you committed to create, what you say is, one million jobs in the United States over the next five years. Now that’s not a million jobs that Alibaba itself but you’re not hiring a million people.
Jack Ma: No, no, we, all totally Alibaba employee put together is like 45,000 people, we cannot hire 1 million. I cannot imagine I can manage 1 million people.
Interviewer: Explain to us how you think about the US-China relationship, given some of the comments that Donald Trump has made about China being a currency manipulator? Did that come up during your meeting?
Jack Ma: Well, I think, first, in America there is a freedom of speech, right? So he can say whatever he want and I respect and I understand. But, of course, I have my views. We did not debate about the China-US trade or manipulation, we did not debate. We did not talk. Actually we agreed on something: small business, developing the Midwest America, helping the farmers there, small business there to export into China. So we all agreed. But something that we did not discuss about the American job losing to China or Mexico, and this — can I share with you my ideas?
Jack Ma: First, I think 30 years ago, when I just graduated from university, I heard American wonderful strategy. They outsourced the manufacturing job, service jobs. They outsourced the manufacturing to Mexico and China, outsourced the service jobs to India. There’s a book called The World Is Flat.
Interviewer: Tom Friedman, at the New York Times.
Jack Ma: And I think it’s a perfect strategy. You know that the American said, ‘We just want to control the IP, we just want the technology, we just want the brand and leave the lower end jobs for the world. Great strategy. And the second is that the American international companies made millions and millions of dollars from globalization, the top 10 — top 100 companies in America; amazing. I remember when I graduate from university, I tried to buy a beeper, the Motorola beeper cost me $250. My pay at that time was $10 a month as a teacher. And the cost of making that beeper is only $8 for a chip.
So the past 30 years, IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, they made a tons of them and the money, the profit they made are much more than the four largest banks in China put together — China Mobile, China Unicom and whatever you name it, put together, still these multinational companies made more money. So their market cap grew more than 100 times in the past 30 years. But where did the money go? This is what I’m curious, because, as a business people I always care about the balance sheet: where is the money coming, where does the money go?
Past 30 years, America had 13 wars, spending $14.2 trillion, the money going there. What if they spent a part of their money on building of the infrastructure, helping the white collars and blue collars? No matter how strategy good it is, you’re supposed to spend money on your own people, right? Not everybody can pass Harvard — like me, not good at education, right? We should spend money on those people who are not good at schooling.
And the other money which I am curious about is that when I was young, I heard America is about Ford, Boeing, those big manufacturing companies. The last 10, 20 years what I heard about is Silicon Valley and Wall Street. The money go to the Wall Street. And what happened year 2008? The financial crisis wiped out $19.2 trillion USA alone. They wiped out all of the white collars and destroyed 34 million jobs globally. So what if the money — it’s not on Wall Street. What if the money spent on the middle east, mid-west of the United States? Developing the industry there, that could be changed a lot. So it’s not the other countries steal jobs from you guys. It is your strategy.
Interviewer: OK, but —
Jack Ma: But you do not distribute the money and things in a proper way.
Interviewer: This is what I — and now we are having a backlash. And that backlash is a rebuke of globalization in so much of the conversation frankly that we have here. And that backlash is happening in the United States but I will say President Xi was here yesterday, you had lunch with him. And he was quoting Abraham Lincoln. What did you make of that?