Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, delivered his first lecture as a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo, marking a significant step back from his business empire following Beijing’s crackdown on his ventures. The renowned Chinese entrepreneur, who started his career as an English teacher before achieving tremendous success in the business world, engaged students in a special two-hour seminar on June 12, focusing on management philosophy and strategies for attaining success. The University of Tokyo confirmed the event in a statement released on Friday.
Students from across the world at University of Tokyo
Ma’s lecture, attended by students from various countries including Japan, China, India, and Malaysia, drew from his extensive experience and pioneering knowledge in entrepreneurship and innovation, according to the University of Tokyo’s statement. Once a flamboyant and outspoken figure, Ma had retreated from public life after openly criticizing Chinese regulators in a speech delivered in Shanghai towards the end of 2020.
Chinese Government Suspends the IPO
Shortly following his remarks, the Chinese government suspended the highly anticipated initial public offering (IPO) of Ant Group, which had been projected to be the largest stock offering in history. This action marked the initiation of an unprecedented regulatory crackdown on China’s internet industry and private sector, culminating in Alibaba Group being fined a record-breaking $2.8 billion for violating antitrust rules.
Since then, Ma had maintained a low profile, spending considerable time abroad, particularly in Hong Kong, Spain, and Japan, where his friend and Alibaba investor, SoftBank CEO Masa Son, resides. As Ma’s whereabouts became a subject of ongoing speculation, his absence was seen as emblematic of the decline in entrepreneurial confidence in China.
Ma’s Public Appearances
In a move that analysts viewed as a planned media event orchestrated by Beijing to alleviate concerns within the private sector, Ma returned to mainland China in March to support a significant restructuring plan for Alibaba, resulting in the division of the company into six separate units. Throughout this year, Ma has gradually reappeared in public, with a more visible focus on research and teaching. In April, it was announced that Ma would serve as a faculty member at the business school of the University of Hong Kong for the next three years.
According to Ma’s profile page, he assumed his position as a professor at the University of Tokyo on May 1, with his tenure set to last until October 31. After the seminar, Ma returned to mainland China and attended a mathematics event organized by Alibaba’s research team in Hangzhou on Saturday. During the event, Ma interacted with the finalists of a global math competition initiated by the Damo Academy in 2018. He discussed plans for the competition’s continued innovation and efforts to provide new enjoyment to mathematics enthusiasts.
China’s Economic Worries
China’s government, facing a slowdown in economic recovery and soaring unemployment rates among young individuals, recognizes the importance of the private sector in revitalizing growth and generating employment opportunities. Recent government statistics revealed that retail sales and industrial production fell short of expectations last month. In response, top leaders such as President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang have reassured both domestic and foreign investors and entrepreneurs that the country is once again a safe and welcoming environment for investment.
As Jack Ma embraces his new role at University of Tokyo as a professor and continues his endeavors in research and teaching, his return to the public eye signifies not only a personal transformation but also a potential sign of resilience and renewed optimism within China’s entrepreneurial landscape.