Jack Ma says he saw it coming. Over a year ago, when Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual were still going concerns, many business leaders and economists in Asia thought China would avoid damage from America's deepening financial mess. Ma, founder and chairman of e-commerce power Alibaba.com, wasn't one of them.
Alibaba has more than 8 million small and midsize companies using its business-to-business online marketplace, and Ma's salespeople were already hearing about trouble from many of its export-reliant customers. "We are talking to factory people all the time, and with the data we collected, we knew something was wrong," he says. "We smelled something bad."