Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba. Photo: YouTube
Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba. Photo: YouTube

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week, Jack Ma made a comment that made his audience chuckle. When asked how he recruited the best young people to work for him, the outgoing chairman of Alibaba said he tried to pick smart people, especially those who were smarter than he was.

“I think stupidity is the biggest disease, worse than cancer,” he said. “Cancer is curable, stupidity is not.”

He recalled that not a single person out of Alibaba’s 18 founding members came from a prestigious university. In fact, some even failed to secure a job before joining Alibaba.

But Ma said that although his earliest colleagues at Alibaba were not particularly smart, they were curious and willing to learn what the future holds.

Yet he said he would not care too much whether his people had diplomas from well-known institutions, just like the old Chinese idiom goes, “Do not ask a hero where he is from.”

Ma’s rule of the thumb is that a nice academic transcript or diploma is not necessarily a token of ingenuity, but smart, innovative people can shine once they are offered opportunities.

Meanwhile, those who always rant about inequity or harbor “negative energy” must be avoided, he said.

“When I hire people, I hire the people who are smarter than I am. People who four, five years later could be my boss. [And] I like people who are positive and who never give up,” Ma explained.

He said he also relied on smart ways to manage smart people.

“To manage smart people you have to use culture, the value system, [so] they believe [in] what they do. If you just want to use rules and laws and documents to control and discipline them – that’s how you control stupid people,” Ma said.

When asked what keeps him awake at night, he said: “Nothing.”

“If I don’t sleep well, the problem will still be there. If I sleep, I had a good rest, sound sleep and will probably, I will have a better chance to fight [the problem],” he said.

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