HANGZHOU, China — Alibaba may have reported $3.4 billion in revenue for its most recent financial quarter, but the company’s main headquarters are far from flashy or extravagant — and that says a lot about the tech giant itself.
GeekWire had a chance to tour Alibaba’s home base in Hangzhou, China, a city located 100 miles southwest of Shanghai. We joined administrators, coaches, and student-athletes from the University of Washington and University of Texas who were also on hand to meet Alibaba executives, shoot some hoops, and learn more about the company itself, which is sponsoring Saturday’s regular season basketball game in Shanghai between the UW and Texas via a partnership with the Pac-12.
The day started with an executive roundtable meeting in Alibaba’s “VIP room,” which included people like Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, UW President Ana Mari Cauce, and other dignitaries.
From there we headed to a company gymnasium, where the athletes posed for pictures with Ma before each team conducted practices with many curious Alibaba employees watching from above.
We then got a tour of Alibaba’s campus, which opened just two years ago, features nine buildings, and is home to 15,000 employees (the company has more than 30,000 worldwide). Alibaba has another campus near Hangzhou and is opening a third for its Alipay (Alibaba’s payment technology) employees soon.
Even though Alibaba is making hoards of money and is one of the most powerful technology companies not only in China, but the world, you probably won’t think that having visited its campus.
Executives say this is a result of a low-key, humble approach carried forward by Ma since he founded the company 16 years ago. It also comes through in some of the sculptures on the company grounds, including this one, which is all about the mantra of “no matter how far you come, keep your head down.”
Ma’s values also come through with the landscape of Alibaba’s campus, which features lakes and plenty of trees. The Alibaba founder, also chairman of The Nature Conservancy’s China Program, is a big believer in helping keep the world’s environment sustainable and clean.
Executives say that each tree, plant, and structure on Alibaba’s campus was meticulously placed in accordance with Feng shui, the Chinese philosophical system of “positioning a building and the objects within a building in a way that is thought to agree with spiritual forces and to bring health and happiness,” according to Merriam-Webster.
There was also plenty of signage and activity going on for Singles’ Day, the massive 24-hour online shopping event Alibaba puts on each year on Nov. 11, which was taking place just one day after our visit.
Similar to U.S. tech giants, Alibaba has a bevy of services available for its workers like a post office, a hair salon, a convenience store, and more.
There are also bicycles that employees use to get around.
This Lamborghini was actually built by two men who wanted to prove that you could buy literally anything on Alibaba’s huge online marketplace TaoBao. They acquired each part of the vehicle with using TaoBao and took one year to assemble the car.
There is also a police station at Alibaba. Executives said that the Chinese government now requires large Internet companies to have enforcement on campus.
Parking is a little tight at Alibaba, so the company uses a stack parking system.
And yes, there is a Starbucks on campus.
Here are some more photos from Alibaba: