“Serve the customer.” That was Jack Ma’s answer when City News asked what advice he would give a company looking to expand into the Chinese market. The chairman and chief executive officer of Alibaba Group added that understanding the customers’ needs in the market was not difficult if one put in the effort.
Ma was speaking to reporters after his keynote address at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Small Medium Enterprises (APEC SME) Summit. His address, entitled “Small is Beautiful”, expounded on the strengths and challenges faced by SMEs.
Small is beautiful because in today’s consumer-driven world, success depends on how quickly one can reinvent or change in order to meet the needs of the market. Because of their smaller scale, SMEs are better positioned to be agile.
However, SMEs face great challenges when it comes to raising funds. Ma told the audience, “You can only rely on yourself, your friends and your dreams.”
Over the past 15 years, Ma has built eight companies within the Alibaba Group, a family of internet-based businesses including Alibaba.com, the biggest business-to-business portal in the world and Taobao.com, the Chinese equivalent of eBay.
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Ma highlighted three key areas that all SME bosses should focus on. Firstly, they should pay attention to their customers. Most shareholders are share-traders. When customers believe in the company, they will provide the funds for the company’s operations and expansion. Businesses should meet customers’ needs, which will in turn lead to innovation.
Secondly, business owners should focus on their employees. The team makes the difference. Companies must hire the right people, not the most highly qualified people, as the latter may not necessarily meet the needs of the company.
Thirdly, business owners must respect their competitors and learn from them. This can be achieved by looking for similar companies that are good role models.
Ma ended by urging business owners to have tenacity when facing challenges. He said, “Today is very difficult. Tomorrow is even more difficult. The day after tomorrow is very beautiful. Sadly, most people die tomorrow evening.”