HANGZHOU, China — To produce more entrepreneurs that help build innovative companies, Jack Ma says we should rethink how young students are educated.
Before meeting with players and coaches from the University of Washington and University of Texas — the teams will play a regular season game in Shanghai on Saturday — at his company’s headquarters in Hangzhou, the Alibaba founder addressed a VIP roundtable on Tuesday morning that included people like UW President Ana Mari Cauce and Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott.
Ma was asked about how the universities can help encourage entrepreneurship with their young students. The 51-year-old began his answer by addressing how MBA students are currently educated.
“I’ve always been curious about this,” he said. “MBA’s were great in the last century, in the IT time. But now, it’s innovation time.”
Ma said it’s difficult to teach students how to be an entrepreneur in school and that the way MBAs are trained today should be “upgraded.” For example, he said he sent two of his “best guys” to enroll at an MBA graduate school, but they failed the entrance exam because of poor math scores.
“Some people are really good at schooling, but some people are terrible at learning,” Ma said. “For those people, we should give them a chance of the other side.”
Ma, who did not graduate from a top tier school and was an English teacher before starting one of the world’s most powerful technology companies, noted that many universities in China want to educate more people like Mark Zuckerberg or himself.
“It will be tough,” he said. “But there is definitely a way to discover these people.”
Cauce followed Ma’s statements by noting how she’s trying to encourage a mentality of “fail forward” with UW students, giving them permission to make mistakes given that failure is often a necessary step on the path to success.
Ma responded by saying he wouldn’t be where he is today without learning how to deal with failure, including being rejected from a managerial role at a new Kentucky Fried Chicken in Hangzhou where he was the only person out of 25 applicants to be eliminated in the first round of cuts. Ma also struggled to be accepted to universities multiple times.
“It’s not about making money,” he said in regard to how he thinks about teaching entrepreneurship. “It’s about realizing the mission of working with your team to solve problems, little by little. This is what we want to share.”
Cauce later called Ma is a “perfect role model” for students in Seattle.
“Part of the message that we’re trying to give to our students is that to be a risk-taker, you can’t be afraid of failure,” said Cauce. “You have to be prepared to pick yourself back up. That’s Jack Ma’s story.”