When Jack Ma took to a Shanghai conference stage in October, China’s most famous entrepreneur was on the brink of pulling off an unprecedented $35 billion initial public offering for the finance juggernaut he co-founded two decades earlier. Ant Group Co.’s listing would value the company at more than $300 billion and swell Ma’s own fortune beyond its already blistering $61 billion, cementing his position as the nation’s richest man.
Ma, a co-founder of e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., China’s largest company, told the audience that day at the Bund Summit that he was torn about speaking, but felt this was a “most critical” moment in the development of finance. What followed was a 20-minute roasting of anachronistic government regulation that would suffocate innovation in China. It was a vintage performance by the famously outspoken executive, known for his confident swagger and soaring rhetoric. But this time, like Icarus after he flew too close to the sun, Ma has found himself quickly brought back to earth.