Foxconn's Terry Gou Knows Why Alibaba is So Successful

Photographer: Ashley Pon/Bloomberg

Terry Gou, chairman of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., during the company's annual general meeting in the Tucheng district of New Taipei, Taiwan, on June 26, 2013. Close

Terry Gou, chairman of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., during the company's annual... Read More

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Photographer: Ashley Pon/Bloomberg

Terry Gou, chairman of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., during the company's annual general meeting in the Tucheng district of New Taipei, Taiwan, on June 26, 2013.

Alibaba's looming IPO is set to break a few records, raise a lot of cash and make some people very rich. A success story from every angle.

Terry Gou -- the Man Who Makes Your iPhone -- also knows a bit about success. Having grown his company from a maker of plastic TV knobs to a million-strong army assembling all the latest gadgets, the founder and chairman of Foxconn has never been shy to share his views on everything from taxation policy to international territorial disputes.

So with the light now being shone on Alibaba's fairytale story, I wanted to get Gou's opinion on why the world's largest collection of e-commerce sites has been so successful.

Gou was brief and to the point: Jack Ma.

Although three factors account for Alibaba's success, Gou said, the 49-year-old founder is chief among them.

"Jack Ma is very impressive," Gou said. From China's 1.3 billion people, Ma is a standout, the cream of the crop, Gou said.

That's high praise indeed from a man known to criticize other highly successful people, including the Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett.

Fourteen years Gou's junior, Jack Ma has been on the elder's radar for a few years, having impressed the 63-year-old enough to get a rare invite to speak at one of Foxconn's annual management meetings. Incidentally, Softbank's Masayoshi Son is another leader to receive Gou's admiration.

The second factor in Alibaba's success, said Gou, is Joe Tsai. The Taiwanese-born Yale Law graduate is a co-founder of Alibaba and doesn't get the same press as either Ma or groomed successor Jonathan Lu, yet he earned the number two spot on Gou's list of Alibaba Success Factors because of his contributions in both financial and legal aspects of the business.

Third is the involvement of Softbank and Yahoo. The two companies have been written up as major beneficiaries of Alibaba's IPO, reaping windfall profits for having invested in the Chinese company while it was still small. Yet it's the technology and know-how they brought to Alibaba from the outset that's the other factor in the company's success, according to Gou.

As entrepreneurs and dreamers gaze at Alibaba's IPO, plotting out a plan to replicate its success, Gou's few simple observations may put notions of a "magic formula" into perspective.

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