People in the News: Jack Ma | Level 8 | By Little Fox

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[Series Introduction]

Young newscasters Ben and Olivia introduce well-known people from around the world. These “people in the news” have accomplished extraordinary things in science, sports, music, business, politics, and more!


BEN: Welcome back to People in the News, Little Fox readers. Today Olivia will be telling us about Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma. His Alibaba website is one of the most popular online shopping sites in the world. And he’s one of the world’s richest people!

OLIVIA: That's true, Ben. But it wasn’t easy for Jack Ma to achieve success. He had to overcome both poverty and failure.
Jack was born on September 10, 1964, in Hangzhou, a city in southeast China. His Chinese name is Ma Yun. He has a brother and sister, and his parents were pingtan performers—traditional storytellers. But in the 1960s and ’70s, Chairman Mao Zedong banned pingtan during the Cultural Revolution.
Growing up, Jack was known as a troublemaker in his neighborhood. Although he was a small boy, he didn’t hesitate to fight bigger boys. One of Jack’s hobbies was collecting crickets. He could tell the size and type of cricket by the sound it made!
As a teenager Jack grew interested in learning English. When Western tourists began visiting China, he saw an opportunity to improve his skills. For years Jack woke up early to ride his bike to Hangzhou’s main hotel. He offered tourists free tours just for the chance to speak English with them! One tourist gave him the nickname "Jack."
Jack also tried to find a job that paid. But he couldn’t even get hired by a KFC fast-food restaurant! He believed it was because he looked different; he was unusually small and skinny.
Then, when Jack was ready for college, he failed the entrance exam twice.

BEN: What happened?

OLIVIA: He had trouble with the math section. He passed on his third try, and in 1988, he graduated from Hangzhou Teachers College with a degree in English.
Again Jack had trouble finding work. He ended up teaching English at an engineering institute. Despite being a very popular teacher there, he was only paid about $14 a month. To make some more money, he worked as a street vendor.
In 1994 he started his first business—an agency that provided translation services. The next year he went to the United States on business. While he was there, a friend introduced him to the Internet. Jack was amazed by what he saw. He also quickly realized that Chinese businesses were very difficult to find on the Internet. He saw this as a golden opportunity. After returning home, Jack founded China Pages, an online directory of Chinese businesses. China Pages struggled at first, but Jack persisted, working long hours, and eventually it paid off. Jack ran China Pages for two years until the Chinese government took control of it.
Next Jack moved to Beijing to work for an Internet agency sponsored by the government. But he desperately wanted to run his own company. In 1999 he left his job to found Alibaba.

BEN: Did he name the company after the character in the story "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves?" The guy who’s always saying, "Open sesame"?

OLIVIA: Yes! In the story Ali Baba helps others. He also discovers that "open sesame" is the password to open a cave where thieves have hidden treasure.
For his new company Jack wanted a name that would be recognized around the world. He was at a coffee shop in the United States, thinking about his new business when "Ali Baba" popped into his head. He asked a waitress if she knew who Ali Baba was. She did! Then he went outside and asked ten or twenty strangers the same question. They all recognized the name too, so he decided to use it.
Jack started Alibaba in his apartment with 17 friends. Originally the site was designed for businesses to sell things to other businesses around the world. Over time it expanded, aided by a huge economic boom in China.
. . .

[Little Fox Introduction]

Little Fox is an award-winning library of leveled stories and songs. We create animated stories and songs to help kids to learn English easily as a second language (ESL). Visit our website, www.littlefox.com, to learn more about our unique curriculum and our thousands of digital resources.


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