Shares for the Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba, opened at $92.70 a share on the New York Exchange last Friday. This made Alibaba the biggest initial public offering in U.S. History and Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba, the richest man in China. (NPR)

If you don’t know what Alibaba is, imagine an online company that is more valuable than Facebook, combines the services of Amazon and Ebay and handles more merchandise than both of them combined.

Related article: 10 Common Habits of the Super Rich That Actually Made Them Rich

Although Jack Ma is still not a household name outside of China, like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos, that is about to change. Here are 20 things you didn’t know about Jack Ma that will help you get up to speed.

1. Jack Ma only owns 6% of the company he founded.


However, he sold nearly $1 billion in stock last Friday, his current stake in the company is still worth $18 billion and he owns 46% of the company’s electronic-payment affiliate Alipay, which was valued by Forbes at $20 billion. (IBR)

2. He flunked his university admission exam. Twice.


It’s not like he was applying for the Chinese equivalent of Harvard, either. In an interview with Inc. in 2008, Jack Ma admitted his university, Hangzhou Teachers’ University, was considered the worst university in the city. However, Mr. Ma’s leadership skills didn’t take long to surface. He was elected the student chairman of his university and later on became the chairman of the city’s Student’s Federation.

3. He applied for a job at KFC, and was rejected.


Once he quit his teaching job he started looking for other opportunities. When KFC rejected him, he started a small-time translation and interpreting company. (Inc.)

4. His true love is show biz… and dogs.


Although he has come a long way since being the son of underground ping tan artists, he hasn’t lost the flamboyant love for showmanship he inherited from them.

Apart from Apollo, his Alsation dog, Ma loves nothing more than singing and dancing on stage, especially if he gets to wear outlandish outfits and heavy makeup. His version of Lion King is a must-see. Having said that, his rendition of “Can you feel the love tonight?” dressed in a leather jacket with a humongous spiked Mohican is not bad either.

5. Forest Gump is his lifelong hero.


Every time he gets stressed out, he watches the movie again. What does Ma get from Forest Gump? “No matter whatever changed, you are you.” That’s deep. (CNBC)

6. His parents were performers in an illegal form of Chinese entertainment.


Jack Ma’s parents were practitioners of the “ping tan,” a Chinese tradition of musical storytelling that was banned during Mao’s Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976.

7. His avatar is “Feng Qinyang”


Jack Ma also goes by his nickname Feng Quinyang, a legendary swordsman who is known for his aggressive, unpredictable and reclusive character. The nickname fits his business practices but not his public life. Jack Ma is no recluse. (The Hindu)

8. Jack Ma learned English as a teenager by giving free tours to visitors on the West Lake in Eastern China.


He would ride 40 minutes every morning to a hotel in the nearby city of Hangzhou. His exposure to foreign visitors gave him a more globalized view that conflicted with what he learnt from his teachers and textbooks. (BBC)

9. He started out his career as an English teacher.


In the past, the Chinese government would assign jobs to university graduates, who had little say in the matter. Mr. Ma was the only one of 500 students assigned to be a university teacher even though he trained to be high a school English teacher. It was an honor, but Jack Ma couldn’t wait to finish his five-year stint and start his own business. I can’t see why. He was making 120 renminbi, or $15 a month. (Financial Post)

10. Jack Ma didn’t see his first computer until he was 31.

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In 1995, he went on a trip to Seattle on interpreting business, saw his first computer and started surfing the World Wide Web. It would be a trip that would change his life forever. (Inc.)

Ma may not have been an early adopter of computers and the internet but he sure became a true believer. He immediately saw the potential and started to look for ways to create a viable online business in mainland China.

11. He was kidnapped on his first trip to the United States.


Part of the reason he accepted the interpreting gig in the States was to help a friend collect a debt from an American businessman. When Ma asked for the cash back, the businessman wouldn’t play ball. Instead, he locked Ma in his house, got his handgun out, and tried to strong-arm him into cutting a deal.

What happened later, seems more like a Hollywood movie than the bio of a executive chairman. The businessman forced Ma to go with him to Las Vegas, where Ma gambled his last few dollars on the slot machines and made $600. He then ran away from his captor and used his gambling winnings to buy a plane ticket back to Seattle.

12. His first start-up was a complete flop.


Excited about the potential of starting an internet business in China, Ma returned home and started his first real business, China Yellow Pages. He used his life savings and a loan from a relative to cobble together $2,000 he needed to get the business started.

On the launch date of China Yellow Pages, Ma invited his friends to his house to see his website. After three and a half hours, only half his page had loaded. Don’t you miss the days of dial-up internet?

13. Jack Ma started Alibaba with a group of his English students.

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In 1999 a group of Ma’s students, who had become his friends, met at his apartment and put together the founding goals of what would become Alibaba. At first, he didn’t have that much trust in his friends. He told them they would only ever reach mid-management positions, never vice-president roles. Those roles would have to be taken by outside help.

Later, Ma called that decision his biggest regret. Years later his friends were still around filling those vice-president roles while the outside help had long gone.

14. He gave up a big chunk of his company to his 18 “co-founders.”


If there’s something Ma knows how to do right, it is motivating his workforce. Even though he was the only real founder, Ma named the 18 friends who were with him in the early days co-founders and shared a big chunk of the shares in Alibaba with them when he incorporated the business.

15. He is barely computer literate.


Ok. He can switch a computer on and send email, but not much more. In an interview with Charlie Rose he explained how he was trained as an English high school teacher and knows nothing about technology. “The only thing I can use my computer for is to send, receive email and browse.”

16. His wife thinks he’s ugly but she fell for his other skills.


Jack Ma met his Zhang Ying while still at college and they married soon after graduation. When Ma quit teaching, Zhang stayed on as a teacher while he tried his luck with China Yellow Pages. Zhang is quoted as saying “Ma Yun is not a handsome man, but I fell for him because he can do a lot of things handsome men cannot do” (Want China Times).

17. He hired his wife as “political commissar” of Alibaba.


Yes, Chinese companies actually have political commissioners. In the early days her role as political commissar mainly consisted in cooking a doing odd errands, but she eventually became the General Manager of Alibaba in China. Once she was at the pinnacle of her career, he made the gutsy move of asking her to step down and go back to caring for their kids and cooking his meals. (Want China Times)

If there is anything that stands out from Jack Ma’s story is how unexpected his rise to unimaginable riches was. Sure, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet also have inspiring stories of entrepreneurs who were willing to put everything on the line to build huge corporations from scratch. Yet, from early on, they all showed signs of natural ability in their fields.

18. His real name is Ma Yun.



19. Jack Ma is worth $25 Billion.


Even though Alibaba doesn’t actually sell anything, it takes a cut of 80% of all the goods sold online in China, a country with over 600 million internet users.

The record-breaking IPO of Alibaba pushed Jack Ma’s personal fortune above the previous richest man in China, Wang Jianlin, who is worth a measly $24.2 billion.

20. His initial plan was to hand over the company to professionals after four years.


Although Jack Ma is now well known for his bold statements and dressing like a rock star, he wasn’t always that confident technology tycoon. When he first started Alibaba, back in 1999, he was a shy amateur with a dream who felt he could only stay in his company for four years before handing it over to a pro.

Ma was brought up in a communist society. He barely made it into university, didn’t see a computer until he was 31 years old and still can’t write a line of code, even it his life depended on it. Yet he is the founder of an online technology company that dwarfs some of the most successful corporations in the world. Go figure.

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Rags to Riches Title

The road to fame doesn’t always mean lavish cribs and flashy lifestyles. Many of America’s most beloved celebrities were born into poverty and had to face such hardships as homelessness, abusive parents, and wondering when they would eat their next meal.

Despite these struggles, these celebrities persevered and grew to become some of our favorite actors, singers, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers and athletes. Read on to find out how they overcame these life obstacles and found success in today’s world.

1. Shania Twain

Shania Twain This country super star grew up singing the blues. Shania Twain was raised in a severely poverty stricken home in Ontario, Canada, and was born Eilleen Regina Edwards. Her parents divorced at the age of two and her mother moved her and her sisters to a new town. There, Shania’s mother met and married a new man who eventually legally adopted Shania and her siblings.

But the love didn’t last long. There were often violent fights between the parents until finally the mother drove her kids to a homeless shelter 420 miles away to escape her abuser. From that point on it was nothing but a struggle to survive, and there were many nights that went by without any food to eat. Twain started singing in bars at the age of 8 to help raise a little extra money to support her mother and siblings. Still, they ended up returning to the abusive father just two years later.

Twain continued through her younger years hiding from her teachers and schoolmates the fact that her family didn’t have enough money for food or heat. She wrote her first song at the age of 10 and was invited to perform on a CBS television show when she was 13 years old. When she graduated high school in 1983, she went to work for her father’s reforestation business, working hard every day for very little pay, walking miles in the woods carrying heavy loads of trees. It was here in the forest that Twain says she was able to be the most creative, finding time to sit with her guitar and write songs during breaks.

In 1987, her parents were killed in a car crash, so Twain moved her younger siblings out to where she was living so she could support them. The years passed by, and she was finally discovered and hit the country music scene big time.

Shania Twain went on to become one of country music’s top selling artists of all time, and is now worth approximately $350 million dollars. She also currently works as an advocate for children who are suffering just like she did, ensuring no child has to go to school hungry or to bed without a meal.

2. Roman Abramovich

Roman Abramovich One of the wealthiest men in the world, Roman Abramovich has found huge success in Russia as a businessman and politician, but actually had quite a different life when he was growing up.

Born in Lithuania and orphaned at the age of four when his parents died, Abramovich was raised by his uncle and grandmother. Abramovich dropped out of college to pursue his dreams of owning a business, but started out selling rubber ducks out of a small apartment in Moscow. He got his first big break in the form of an expensive wedding gift from his in-laws.He then set up a company with his new wife making dolls, which in a few years time expanded to owning several businesses including a pig farm and his first beginnings in the oil industry.

In 1995, he managed to purchase oil giant Sibneft at a bargain price, and continued to transform his small investments into enormous profit. He’s now one of the richest men on earth, with a current net worth of approximately $14.2 billion, including owning the third largest yacht in the world today.

3. Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison Even the man who gave us light as we know it today didn’t come from wealth and luxury. Thomas Edison was born in Ohio in the mid 1800’s, to a family that was very poor and struggled to keep everyone fed. The youngest of seven children (only 4 of which survived into adulthood), Edison’s father tried investing in many opportunities to provide for his large family, but unfortunately, most of them failed.

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Edison faced many health challenges and was described as a sickly child. In addition to his illness, he was hearing impaired as well as being a restless and curious child. Because of the fact that the family moved around quite a bit, Edison did not start school until he was 8 years old. The classroom life was short-lived, only lasting three short months before his teacher declared him “too stupid to learn anything.”

His mother decided to home-school him from that point on. Edison grew up to become a prolific inventor, with over 1000 patents to his name at the time of his death in 1931. These ideas and new innovations did not come easy though. He struggled with many of his greatest ideas for years, failing in every attempt to make it work before finally finding success.

The light bulb, for example, was one of his greatest inventions, but one that failed about thousands of times before finally working on that final try. When people would ask him how he managed to keep moving forward despite the repeated failures, he replied, “I have not failed. I have simply found 10,000 other ways that do not work.”

4. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey Perhaps one of the saddest stories yet, Oprah Winfrey struggled through more troubles as a young child than most people have to endure in a lifetime. Oprah spent the first six years of her life being raised by her grandmother in a Mississippi home that was so poor that she wore clothes made from potato sacks. She was abused by members of her own family and bounced around from home to home.

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Winfrey was molested by a family friend and two members of her own family, before running away from home at the age of 13. At the age of 14, she gave birth to a son who died shortly after birth. She went back to live with her mother, but once again was sent away to live with her father.

It was at this time that she was finally able to turn her life around, studying hard and earning a full college scholarship.She entered the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant and ended up winning, which prompted her to be discovered by a radio station that decided to give her a job.

This launched her career in journalism which would eventually grow to a multi-billion dollar network empire. Today Oprah is reportedly worth $2.9 billion and spends much of her time giving back to young girls around the world through her many charitable organizations.

5. Jay Z

Jay Z Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter got his start as a drug dealer in one of New York’s worst neighborhoods. Raised by his mother, he grew up in such poverty that he recalls rarely even having the luxury of bread to eat. The violence that he encountered every day in Brooklyn’s Marcy Housing Projects became the norm, and his life was filled with crime and sadness.

The violence escalated to the point that he shot his own brother in the arm at the age of 12, because his brother had taken some of his jewelry. Tired of living a life filled with violence and never having any money for food, he worked hard and was finally able to move out of the hood.

He started out as a rapper, telling the stories of what it was like to grow up in a world that he knew all to well. This career took off and began to grow into what would become a business empire including clothing lines, nightclubs, and even the New Jersey Nets professional NBA basketball team. His current net worth is estimated to be around $520 million and is known as the “best rapper alive.”

6. Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey One of the most famous comedians of our time, Jim Carrey actually grew up in a dark shadow of a childhood. Born and raised in Canada, his family struggled to put food on the table.

At the young age of 12, Carrey was forced to take an eight hour per day factory job that he would work once school let out each day to help support his family after his father lost his job. The family lost just about everything and was forced to live in a camper van by a river.

The full time work on top of his schooling proved to be too much for Carrey, and he dropped out of school at 16 and ran off to Los Angeles to make it big.

Luck was finally on his side when he made it to Hollywood and captured the heart of comedic legend Rodney Dangerfield, who helped launch Carrey’s career into the future. Jim Carrey is now one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood with a current net worth estimated to be over $150 million.

7. Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio Although Leonardo DiCaprio was raised in the bright lights of Hollywood, life wasn’t all glitz and glamor for him as a child. DiCaprio experienced a far more common side to Hollywood than many people realize – the dark side filled with drugs, prostitution, and crime. Apart from that, DiCaprio was constantly in debt and struggling to make it through.

Tired of not being able to even find a steady well-paying job, DiCaprio decided to set his sights on a future much brighter than the life he had known so far. Through his sheer grit and determination, DiCaprio was able to make it out of these conditions when he landed his first big acting break on Growing Pains. This quickly got him discovered and soon set him on the path that would lead to him being one of the most well-known actors in show business.

His current net worth is estimated somewhere around $220 million, a far cry from homelessness. Perhaps DiCaprio’s firsthand knowledge of what it means to truly be “down and out” are why he is also one of the most well-known humanitarians today.

8. Hank Aaron

Hank Aaron Hank Aaron lived the truly poverty stricken life growing up as a child. His father worked the fields as a cotton picker, and the family had no money for luxuries like baseball equipment. Sparked by a love of the game and a passion to play it, Aaron found his own materials to make a baseball glove.

With that creation completed, he had the chance to play that game he loved so much. But the 1950’s were times of great racial divide in the United States, and there had never been any black professional baseball players before. That didn’t stop “Hammerin’ Hank,” who started his career in the Negro Leagues, but was soon picked up by the pros.

In 1952, Hank Aaron signed a major league deal with the Milwaukee Braves, and when he made his major league debut a short time later, he was amongst the first black players in baseball history to play professionally.

Hank Aaron went on to set baseball records and finished his career with three gold gloves, two batting titles, 25 appearances as an All-Star, and a career total of 755 home runs. He’s arguably one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game.

9. J.K. Rowling

Jk Rowling Author of what’s possibly the most successful series of stories ever published, J.K. Rowling did not have such an easy life before achieving this fame. This recently divorced, single mother struggled through years of poverty before hitting the big time.

Rowling grew up in England and shared her home with her mother, father and a younger sister. Growing up, Rowling recalls her teenage years as quite unhappy, due to serious tensions within her home. Her mother was very ill with multiple sclerosis and her relationship with her father was so strained that she has yet to make attempts to repair it today.

Rowling’s dreams of attending Oxford University were dashed when the school did not accept her, but she pursued her degree in literature at another university instead, graduating in 1986.

As a young child, she would often write fairy tales and short stories to keep herself amused. This passion never died out, and as a young adult she went out to pursue this dream of writing. Instead she found a husband in October of 1992, and the two had a daughter in July of the following year. Within just four short months of their daughter being born and only 13 months after their “I Do’s” the marriage ended due to domestic abuse.

Now a single mother, she was forced to go on welfare and while nearly homeless, faced a severe bout of clinical depression with contemplations of suicide. She would walk her young daughter around the neighborhood trying to calm her down for sleep, and take rests in café’s and delis. During those breaks she began to write what would end up being the first in a series of highly successful stories about a young boy named Harry Potter.

The manuscript was initially rejected by more than a dozen publishers, but finally picked up and soon became one of the best-selling series in history. JK Rowling’s franchise has become world renowned and has taken her from the streets of despair to an estimated worth of over $1 billion, making her the best-selling living author in Britain.

10. Harold Simmons

Harold Simmons Harold Simmons was born in 1931 in the tiny and rural town of Golden, Texas. He grew up there living in a small shack with his parents who were both school teachers. Their home was so small that it did not even have plumbing or electricity.

Despite this very humble beginning, Simmons managed to get accepted to the University of Texas where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. and Master’s degree in Economics. In 1960, he began to build his empire from $5,000 in savings and a $95,000 loan. He used the money to buy a pharmacy, the first of many, and by the year 1973 had built up a chain of over 100 stores. He sold this chain for more than $50 million.

This was the first of many corporate buyouts that would follow, giving Simmons the title of “Master of Corporate Acquisition”.His economic degree and banking background helped him further his career in which he is credited as developing the business concept known as a leveraged buyout (LBO).

At the time of Simmons death in December of 2013, he still maintained control of three publicly traded organizations including Valhi, Kronos Worldwide, and NL Industries. His net worth at the time of his death was estimated to be over $10 billion. Quite a change from his humble beginnings.

Inspired to create your own rags to riches myth? Read this article on 10 habits of the ultra-wealthy that made them rich.

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