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Why Alibaba’s Jack Ma says he wouldn’t be hired by his own company today

Jack Ma says he'd never get a job at his own company, but why? Source: Getty

Alibaba founder Jack Ma is worth US$41.8 billion (AU$60.8 billion). But before he founded his empire 20 years ago, he was rejected from over 30 jobs.

“I failed my exams for primary school. I failed my exams for middle schools. And I failed three times to enter university,” Ma told Forbes’ Global CEO conference in Singapore.

“I tried for jobs – over 30 – all rejected. People would look at the diploma [and ask], ‘What? Where are you from?’”

The emphasis companies place on education and academics means Ma, today, would never be considered for a job at his own company.

“People like me today, if I tried for a job at Alibaba…it’s almost impossible.

“They think, we have a group of people from Harvard, a group of people from Stanford, and you are from nowhere.

“They judge you by your diploma.”

In fact, two of his own young entrepreneurs, who were early founders of payments system Alipay and e-commerce site Taobao, failed the exam to get into MBA courses.

“They want to join the MBA schools, so I called the schools because they wanted me to recommend them. They went, took a test, and both failed. They were turned back,” Ma said.

“I called the President, and he told me they were no good at maths, no good at taking exams. I said, ‘Sir, if they’re good at taking exams, they will never be entrepreneurs’.”

“Most entrepreneurs become business people because their schooling was bad.”

Education system failing students

The education system is at fault for not preparing kids for the digital age, Ma said.

“Most of the things we teach our kids, the way we teach our kids, for the past 200 years, are industrial – for the industrial period,” he said.

“You have to remember faster, remember more… These are the things a machine can do much better than you. When artificial intelligence comes, you’ll lose your job. So, that is something I worry about.”

“Twenty or 30 years later, our kids will never be able to survive because of the education we teach them.

“We need to improve what we teach the kids. It’s too late for us, but it’s never too late to change the way we teach our kids.

“We should teach our kids to be humans, independent thinking – to make judgments.”

In a blog post earlier this month, Virgin Australia founder Richard Branson said children should not be taught to all think in the same way.

“We should support and celebrate all types of neurodiversity and encourage children’s imagination, creativity and problem solving – the skills of the future,” he wrote.

Branson has dyslexia, a cognitive difference in processing information that may have qualities and skills such as creativity and leadership that will be highly valued by workplaces of the future, according to a recent report by EY in association with Made By Dyslexia.

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