China’s second wealthiest man, Jack Ma, is coming to Australia — a country that had a significant influence on his life – to open Alibaba’s local headquarters in Melbourne.
Ma — worth $US28.2 billion, according to Forbes — built his fortune from Alibaba, which provides an e-commerce platform for foreign companies to sell and buy with Chinese firms. The internet giant is ramping up its presence in Australia and New Zealand, opening its regional headquarters in Melbourne on February 4.
Business Insider understands Ma will be the guest of honour when the Melbourne office is launched. Alibaba has been contacted for comment.
Alibaba’s Tmall Global offers overseas companies low cost and easy access to the Chinese market. A report released earlier this month shows Australia was the fifth most active country on the platform.
Chemist Warehouse, Swisse and Blackmores are the most popular Australian brands on Tmall, with the health and nutrition; milk powder; snacks and dietary supplements; and coffee and instant beverages categories in hot demand.
Alibaba opened a data centre in Sydney to provide cloud computing to businesses late last year. The company’s cloud president Simon Hu said at the time that the company had ambitions to catch global market leader Amazon Web Services within four years.
Aside from his conglomerate’s business plans in Australia, Ma has a personal history with the country dating back to the 1980s.
In 1980, a 12-year-old Ma Yun, as he was then known, introduced himself to Australian Ken Morley in China to improve his English, according to the AFR. Morley and his son Jack developed a friendship with the boy and stayed in touch after the family trip, with Ma invited to Australia to visit his new-found friends.
However, in 1985, Ma’s application for an Australian visa was rejected seven times. At the time there were no visas for Chinese citizens wanting to simply visit for tourism or non-specific purposes.
Ma eventually made it to Newcastle as his first-ever trip overseas. He recounted in China last year — in the presence of prime minister Malcolm Turnbull — the impact that the visit had in his formative years.
“I am very thankful for Australia for that 29 days in Newcastle,” Ma said, as reported by the AFR. “When I arrived in Australia I was so shocked and amazed by the wonderful things, the people, the culture, the landscapes, the products.”
He said that he and his peers were taught that “China was the best and richest country in the world” but that upon arrival in Australia he “saw the world was so different”.
“There I learned my English my Aussie English,” he said. “I thought the English I learned in Australia was real English.”
Morley went on to even have a financial hand in Ma’s later success, lending him money to buy his first apartment.