As promised, this morning Fortune published my profile of Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba Group and one of the most singular business executives of our time. With Ma’s distinctive look and Alibaba’s Wall Street success, he and it are well known and yet not well understood, at least in the developed economies where Alibaba’s presence is smallest. And yet Alibaba, at 18 years of age, already is a company for the ages.
It is a runaway e-commerce success in the world’s second-largest market. And it is innovative too. Unlike retail giant Amazon, Alibaba (BABA) is a mere platform for others to sell their wares. That “asset-light” strategy yields far better profits than Amazon (AMZN) at a fraction of the U.S. giant’s revenues.
Ma is an entrepreneur for the ages too. He’s a fluid, if charmingly unpolished, English speaker; a visionary; at times a flamethrower; and quite frequently a bridge between China and the Western world he has grown to know so well. He also has outside interests: He owns a newspaper (like that other guy), supports environmental causes, and evangelizes everywhere for small businesspeople as the foundation of economic development.
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Neither Ma nor Alibaba are perfect. Like Chinese President Xi Jinping, Ma rhapsodizes about free trade—from the comfort of the world’s biggest protected market. Alibaba has a persistent counterfeit problem, one Ma is trying to solve but so far without success.
For all these reasons, Jack Ma ranks second on Fortune’s annual list of world’s greatest leaders—behind a decidedly American (and Chicagoan, no less!) pick. I hope you find additional insights on Ma’s leadership in my magazine article.