Jack Ma Is the Loneliest Billionaire in China

After setbacks, the Alibaba founder is preparing his company for a future without him
Photograph by Chad Ingraham

It’s been a rough 18 months for Chinese Internet tycoon Jack Ma, founder and chairman of the Alibaba Group, a sprawling conglomerate of Web companies. Early in 2011 a fraud scandal hit his business-to-business e-commerce site, Alibaba.com. At roughly the same time, the U.S. government publicly shamed Alibaba-owned Taobao, a hugely successful hybrid of Amazon.com and EBay, for enabling the sale of counterfeit merchandise. Last fall thousands of small merchants protested online and outside Alibaba’s headquarters in Ma’s hometown, the eastern city of Hangzhou, against a hike in Taobao’s listing fees. “I was so lonely at that time,” says Ma, who considers himself a champion of local entrepreneurs and says the higher prices were necessary to fight piracy. “Nobody wanted to believe Jack Ma.”

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