When Alibaba founder Jack Ma is feeling down, he looks to Forrest Gump for inspiration. The Chinese billionaire, whose online retail giant is going public Friday in what's primed to be the biggest IPO in U.S. history, told CNBC that he’s watched the Tom Hanks movie at least 10 times.
“Every time I’m frustrated, I watch the movie,” he said from the New York Stock Exchange floor, where Alibaba is set to begin trading Friday morning, potentially at up to $90 a share. “I watched the movie again before I came here. It’s telling me, ‘no matter whatever changes, you are you.’”
Ma started Alibaba out of his Hengzhou apartment in 1999. Today, the company has its hands in a sprawling assortment of online retail marketplaces, cloud computing services, messaging apps, and video websites, and it generates $2 billion in profit per quarter. Ma said that the central focus of his company remains helping small businesses and that the company will use the $21.8 billion it's raising in its IPO to further this goal.
"We want to make sure our ecosystem helps the small guys,” Ma told Bloomberg TV. “Anything that can help small business grow, we will consider.”
The Alibaba chairman also discussed his controversial decision to spin off Alipay, a fast-growing mobile payments platform similar to PayPal, from Alibaba’s main business in 2011. The move was performed without consulting major shareholders, such as Yahoo, which voiced anger over the decision. In SEC filings, Alibaba has argued the move was necessary to comply with Chinese government regulations, but Ma today alluded to there being more to the story. “The decision for Alipay was one of the most painful decisions I have ever made in my past 15-year business career, but this is the decision I feel most proud of,” he told CNBC.
He also discussed wrangling with the Chinese government, which imposes strict regulations on domestic businesses.
“Being a global company dealing with any government is difficult," Ma said. "There’s an opportunity for communication. That's how we survived the past 15 years. We always try to say, 'We’re in love with the government, but we don’t marry them.'"