It handles more transactions than Amazon and eBay combined – but the chances are you’ve never heard of it.
Alibaba is China‘s e-commerce behemoth. It handles 80 per cent of all online commerce in the world’s second largest economy. Now it is joining the US stock market – raising more than $20bn in the process – and has set its sights on expansion in the USA and Europe.
It’s already got a presence in the UK. The British company Morphsuits.co.uk set up five years ago, selling body-hugging spandex suits to the world, especially those on stag nights. When it wanted to find a supplier to make the suits, it turned to Alibaba to navigate through the complex and sometimes confusing world of Chinese manufacturing.
It’s all the brainchild of Jack Ma, a former English teacher who set up the company 15 years ago. The phenomenal growth in the business has turned him into China’s richest man.
But it hasn’t turned him into a conventional chief executive. He motivates his staff by appearing at company rallies dressed as Lady Gaga and singing the theme from The Lion King.
Investor excitement about Alibaba is so high that it looks set to be the largest-ever initial share offering across the world. The frenzy is driven by the opportunity to buy into internet growth in the fast-expanding Chinese economy.
But it’s attracted a fair degree of controversy as well. One investor described the shares as over-hyped, and the danger is that the shares are so highly valued when they debut that all they can do is drop.