Six Sigma Leadership Profile: Jack Ma

Jack Ma was one of China Central Television’s Top 10 business leaders in 2004. Only five years later, Time magazine ranked him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology awarded Ma an honorary degree in 2013. Then, in 2017, Fortune named him as one of its 50 greatest world leaders. But just what has Ma done to achieve all this? The short answer: he founded the business-to-business trading platform Alibaba.

Ma’s e-commerce company, the Alibaba Group, is a highly successful website, providing an Internet shopping search engine, plus data-oriented cloud computing and electronic payment services. As of 2016, Alibaba is the world’s largest retailer, exceeding the combined gross merchandise volume of Amazon and eBay. Over a hundred million buyers visit Alibaba every day, the site has created more than 30 million jobs in China alone. Ma has also expressed interest in creating one million US jobs earlier this year. Ma is a driving force for change in the way we do things in society and the business world. Today we look at some of the key ways in which Six Sigma may have helped Ma and Alibaba towards success.

Hiring the Best

Alibaba is a far-reaching, incredibly influential organization, with its hand in everything from e-commerce to cloud computing services. But for such a large company, there must be a great employee workforce to support it. They require effective accounting, internal auditing, and risk management teams to help them avoid errors that could hinder growth. Teamwork is a fundamental pillar of Six Sigma ideology, espousing that everyone should work together to maintain high sigma. Without a tightly-knit, properly trained workforce behind them, Alibaba wouldn’t have gotten this far, much the same as a Six Sigma project is impossible without its team members.


Transparency is essential to any large corporation, especially when investor’s demands are concerned. It seems likely that Ma may have incorporated some aspects of Lean Six Sigma thinking into Alibaba’s company culture. Leaders should maintain absolute transparency to ensure that value streams are open to inspection and change. Kaizen, or continuous improvement, is also important here. Transparency allows you to locate problems easily and to correct them accordingly, always working towards a culture of continuous improvement. Considering Ma’s humble beginnings and the rate of expansion since Alibaba’s inception, it seems likely that kaizen may have played a hand in the growth of the company. Identifying variation and waste are essential in global corporations due to the sheer scale of their operations. This is certainly why Alibaba has managed to branch out to the degree that it has.

Strategically Focused Goals

Alibaba shares its ambitiousness with its creator, while Ma himself continuous to devise methods for expansion. But Ma doesn’t go about this without a well-wrought plan from which to work. After all, you don’t go from Harvard reject to CEO of one of the most influential companies in the world just by winging it. Alibaba clearly has a well-focused game plan, seeking out opportunities in the market, frequently acquiring smaller companies before whipping them into shape. This perceptiveness is critical to Six Sigma work too, as Six Sigma Belts actively seek out defects, waste, and other problems, alongside opportunities to solve them.

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