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  • Writer's pictureStar Magnolia Capital

Half the Sky of the Investment World: Jack Ma Approach

This is a follow-up article of Romance Beginning in a Toilet.

During the conference, I had an opportunity to ask Jack Ma and his partner David Yu a question, which was picked up by 36Ke. I was proud of asking this question because I think it is very important to understand today’s investment world in China. Since I moved back to Asia, I noticed that there are far more female working in the investment industry in China. Yes, you see many good-looking blonds working as investor relations and marketing professionals at large hedge funds in the US, but those you see in China are investment professionals, very often as founders and Managing Partners.

About Female Leaders

A Company Must Have More Female Leaders to Thrive

Question (Shinya): While most of private equity firms (especially outside of China), male investors dominate, I found that there are many impressive female investment professionals at Yunfeng. Why does Yunfeng choose to let female investors make many investments?

David Yu: Women's delicacy, acuteness and tenacity are the most precious qualities of excellent investors. Women hold half the sky of our fund. If you look at Yunfeng's portfolio, there are also many successful female entrepreneurs in the portfolio companies.

Jack Ma: In one word, David and I both like women and believe in women, so we support women. I think the world needs more and more women leaders. This is not a political rhetoric, but a company must have more women leaders to do well. It depends on men to make the company bigger, women to make it better, and men and women together to make it greater. This is very particular. To move fast, men are generally better than women. To move steadily, I feel that women do better than men. To have fun, you need men and women together. Here is our exciting future: education, entrepreneurs, women leaders. I also hope that there are many female leaders and entrepreneurs in the company invested by Yunfeng.


Baozi Village, the Origin

When I came to China for the first time in 1983, this 13-year-old boy was surprised that there were many female bus and taxi drivers in China. Those occupations are held by men in Japan. I asked around, but nobody really knew, or cared about, the reason. It remained as a mystery until I learned at my university’s Chinese class a political slogan coined by Chairman Mao: women hold up half the sky. It was during the agricultural boom in the 1950s. The agricultural production cooperative was established at the end of 1954 in Baozi Village, Yanglongsi Township. At that time, many old men did not approve of women going out to work and, based on the labor point system at that time, the female comrades scored only 2.5 points while male did 7 points a day, despite women did the same work as men. This seriously discouraged female comrades to participate in the production and resulted in a serious food shortage. A local party leader, Huaxian Yi told the cooperative members that men and women are equal, and female members should also work, and they must have as many labor points as male members. The enthusiasm of women in the village led the crop output increased by 30%. Chairman Mao praised this Yi’s leadership and put forward the slogan “Women Hold Up Half the Sky; Make Contribution to the Revolution”.

The slogan was motivated to improve the agricultural production but had lasted impact on Chinese people’s mentality and showed obvious contributions to the society. Jack Ma must have learned from Chairman Mao. In 2015, Jack Ma was quoted as he was saying women executives are the “special sauce” for Alibaba’s success. Those high-level employees today include: Maggie Wu, CFO and Head of Strategic Investments, Judy Tong, Chief People Officer, Sophie Wu, Chief Customer Officer, Jessie Zheng, Chief Risk Officer and Chief Platform Governance Officer, Trudy Dai, President of Wholesale Marketplaces and Yvonne Chang, President of Alimama. She is not listed among the senior executives of Alibaba, it is also important to mention Lucy Peng, who was CEO of Ant Financial, which operates Alibaba’s payment app Alipay before moving to Lazada where she is now CEO. Out of 14 executives, 6 are women (43%). The ratio of female executive is in fact higher than the ratio of the total employees (only 36,802 women out of 103,699 employees, or 33%) and much higher than the global average of 27%.

There are few more anecdotes to show how women are driving Alibaba’s ecosystem. (source:

· Women accounted for 49.25% of all entrepreneurs in the Alibaba ecosystem.

· Women aged 23 to 33 accounted for 54.53% of all females.

· There were 1.38 million female entrepreneurs aged 55 or above in the ecosystem.

· There were more female entrepreneurs on AliExpress than male. Females account for 53.67% of the total number of sellers.

· Female shop owners represented about 60% of the total when Taobao first started in 2003. From 2005, there has been a fairly balanced share between male and female owners. In the sectors of apparel, cosmetics and baby care, females are taking the lead.

The Alibaba ecosystem also empowers women from remote and less developed areas in China.

· Female shop owners from poverty counties sold goods valued RMB 13.2 billion in 2018 on Alibaba platforms.

· Female shoppers from poverty counties purchased goods valued RMB 30.3 billion.

· Female shop owners donated RMB73.6 million through the program of “Goods on Good” on Taobao. “Goods on Good” enables participating merchants pledging a percentage of the price of their merchandise as a donation to charitable organizations. When customers purchase the products on Taobao, the system directly transfers the amount to the chosen organization.

Beyond Alibaba

This phenomenon is not only at Alibaba. Fortune Magazine this year selected most powerful women and its international (i.e. Non-American) list of top 50 included 13 Chinese female leaders such as Jessica Tan, Co-CEO of Ping An Group, the largest life insurance group, Alibaba’s Maggie Wu, Wang Fengying, CEO of Great Wall Motor, a leading car manufacturer, Wu Yajun, Chairwoman of Longfor Properties, a leading property developer, Joey Wat, CEO of Yum China, a KFC operator in China, Jane Sun, CEO of Ctrip, the largest online travel agency, to name a few. On the other hand, Japan has only one ranked in the list: Maki Akaida, CEO of Uniqlo Japan, Japan’s largest apparel maker.

Steve Rattner Observes

In a recent interview with Ted Seides’ Capital Allocators, Steve Rattner, CEO of Willett Advisors, which invests former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s personal and philanthropic assets, agrees on my view:

“To make one observation, I found fascinating, which is we have more investment managers in China on the private side with the senior partner and CEO are women than here, as here essentially zero, approximately zero. It’s interesting to see how well women have done in China’s investment world, relative to here, we need to do better.”

Ted asks Rattner why, and Rattner said it was because China’s investment industry is immature and therefore women had more opportunities to ascend. I disagree. It’s obvious that China’s society and government have done something different from other countries. When it comes to China’s future and prosperity, we shouldn’t ignore the fact.

Investing is Empowering

It is not a surprise that we have many female leaders in the investment industry. To make good investments, there is absolutely no difference between men and women. We strongly believe that the investment skills will empower women even in those countries where women are often discriminated. Investor Z’s episode 38, titled “Mama is Great”, is my favorite one. A single mother gains confidence and financial freedom as she starts investing in stocks. At the same time, there are many housewives are responsible for managing their family portfolio without proper knowledge and became victims of brokers and bankers. They only need to know the basic principles of long-term investing to avoid the tragedy, but most of “textbooks” are too technical to read. That’s why we suggest they should read the first 10 episodes of Investor Z. You don’t need to be listed as the Most Powerful Female. Knowing the basic rules through Investor Z is a key to the financial independence and prosperity.

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