Top Three Most Influential Persons in Online Retail

Online retail is a fast moving sector and there are lots of outstanding business leaders out there. Among the best of the best, some really stand out. The way they’ve founded their companies and directed their investments have placed them in the higher echelon of influence in online retail.

Let’s have a look at them and their stories:

No.3 Jack Ma

Net Worth: $9.6 billion
Company: AliBaba Group

Jack Ma - founder of Alibaba.com
Jack Ma – founder of Alibaba.com

Jack Ma, a former English teacher in China, got his first taste of internet entrepreneurship in 1995, when he founded China Pages, a directory of Chinese businesses. He previously worked as a lecturer in English and International trade in the Hangzhou Dianzi University.

After founding and running China pages he briefly worked for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, between 1998 and 1999. In 1999 he founded Alibaba, a B2B marketplace connecting Chinese manufacturers to the world.

Alibaba’s spectacular growth pushed Ma and his associates to add new companies to the group. AliBaba Group now owns Alibaba.com, Taobao Marketplace, Tmall, eTao, Alibaba Cloud Computing, Juhuasuan, 1688.com, AliExpress.com and Alipay.

The company is now only outmatched by Walmart in terms of revenue. Recent developments and an increase in online retail spending have made the Chinese market the largest online retail market in the world. The big winner: Alibaba Group. Through its subsidiaries, the AliBaba Group now handles $248 billion in transactions, 84% of the total online retail market in China.

But Jack Ma is not to be stopped. He is preparing one of the largest IPO’s in American history, after failing to reach an agreement with the Hong Kong exchange. His ambition is fueled by a sense of mission to run his company as an army conquering the world:

“I had always wished that I was born in a period of war. I could have been a general, I thought about what I could have achieved in war.” – Jack Ma, AliBaba Group

All signs point to Jack Ma building the hyper company he dreamed of. He is an effective leader, running the monopoly on online retail, in the world’s future largest economy.

No.2 Larry Ellison

Net Worth: $51.7 billion
Company: Oracle, NetSuite, Salesforce, etc.

Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison

You wouldn’t think of the fifth wealthiest man in the world as one of the most influential persons in online retail. But he is. Through it’s flagship company and different personal investments, he is in control when it comes to online retail infrastructure and software.

For once, Larry Ellison is Oracle and Oracle means, first and foremost, databases. Ellison started his career working for the Ampex Corporation in 1970, on a relational database for the CIA. His designs were based on a paper written by Edgar F. Codd, called “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks”. The same design was implemented by IBM, but the company didn’t have time to solidify its dominance on the market. Challengers soon began to emerge.

Database deployement - Oracle leads the pack
Database deployment – Oracle leads the pack

One of those challengers was Larry Ellison’s Software Development Laboratories (SDL), founded with two partners and later renamed Oracle, based on the database Ellison developed when he was working for the CIA database.

After a long struggle against the largest competitor, IBM (which would push its DB2 and SQL/DS products) and other challengers (Informix, Sybase, Microsoft) – Oracle eventually took lead in the database war. In 2010 the European Union approved Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems. One of the most important assets Oracle got was the wide-spread, popular MySQL database.

So for one – Oracle now dominates the database market, the underlying infrastructure of connected systems and retailers worldwide.

And that’s just the begging – Oracle is currently on a purchase streak, aiming to build a strong multichannel retail presence. It is second only to Adobe Systems, with its customers registering over $200 billion in revenue in 2013.

It’s presence is split between Social marketing, ecommerce platform software, site search, customer service, personalized content and transportation management.

To give you a glimpse on how serious Oracle is about its investments in multichannel retail – they paid $1.5 billion in 2011 for Right Now Technologies, a company providing customer service software and services to the likes of Overstock.com.

Larry Ellison is also one of the major shareholders in Netsuite and Salesforce, two companies shaping the global B2B and B2C commerce future.

1. Jeff Bezos

Net Worth: $30.1 billion
Company: Amazon

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos is the one man we all picture when we think about ecommerce. He is a Princeton graduate with a degree in Computer Science. After graduating from college he pursued a career in investment banking in Wall Street, which he left to found Amazon, after noticing the fast growth in Internet usage.

He set up his company in the proverbial garage with few employees and in 1995 launched the beta version for 300 friends. Days after the launch the book selling eshop managed to ship books across US and 45 foreign countries. Yearly sales in the first year reached $510 000, much more than Bezos envisioned. The company grew and grew, survived the dot com and went on to register $74.5 billion in 2013 revenue.

By expanding the initial book selling operations into CD’s, videos and later clothing, toys, electronics, home & garden, jewelry and even art, Amazon essentially became the “everything store”. Amazon is now the biggest online retailer and a disrupting force in retail.

Everything from the ecommerce revolution to online payments, shipping and marketing has been heavily influenced by Amazon and guided by Jeff Bezos, both a star-gazing visionary and a focused micromanager.

kindle dx
The Kindle DX

In 2007 Amazon launched the Kindle which soon became a revolutionary device that changed the way we think of books and digital content. In 2013 the company hinted at the idea of using aerial drones to enable faster shipping and in 2014 it announced that it’s now testing its 7 and 8 generation aerial vehicles.

But beyond his influence in online retail and retail at large, Bezos is a special human being. A libertarian, he invested in projects most of us would consider unreal and unattainable. He was one of the first investors in Google, financed a clock that would run 10 000 years and a company that’s working on lowering space flight costs, to allow humanity to explore the great unknown.

This short list, headed by Jeff Bezos, is prone to change. The world around can change as well, partly due to these people’s and efforts. To get a deeper glimpse on how they did it and what motivates them, have a look at Jeff Bezos’ Princeton graduation address, “What matters more than your talents”:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBmavNoChZc]

AliBaba decides to take its IPO to the US. Is it taking on Amazon and Ebay? Not just yet.

In terms of global Ecommerce, this was a very interesting day. The Chinese wonder, Alibaba Group Holding, has decided to take its IPO to the States. The company, founded by ex-english teacher Jack Ma in 1999, is now on track to extend its influence outside China.

Jack Ma - founder of Alibaba.com
Jack Ma – founder of Alibaba.com

The company started as a way to connect Chinese manufacturers to the western buyers. It than evolved a B2C and C2C approach, an online payment solution (AliPay) and even an investment fund, Yu’e Bao.

The company’s growth has been mostly fueled by its B2B division, one very important gateway to China’s manufacturers, and its connection to Yahoo. The american company, although not in its best year, was lucky (wise?) to invest in AliBaba, when it was just starting. Although the group has been buying back Yahoo’s stocks, it is still largely (24%) owned by Yahoo.

Given AliBaba’s growth, Yahoo’s stocks have been bumped up. Some analysts suggest that 21$ out of Yahoo’s 37$ stock price come from AliBaba. The future looks great for both Yahoo’s stocks and AliBaba. In the IPO the Chinese company is expected to raise $15 billion, at a valuation north of $140 billion.

Is AliBaba ready to take on Amazon and Ebay?

The answer is … probably not. This might not be its target. As mentioned in an announcement on the corporate blog, AliBaba initially intended to be listed on the Hong Kong exchange. Its management structure, however, would not have the same influence in the case of a Hong Kong listing. Senior management, owners of 10% of the company are not willing to bend to Hong Kong’s rules and have thus decided to switch markets.

“We wish to thank those in Hong Kong who have supported Alibaba Group.  We respect the viewpoints and policies of Hong Kong and will continue to pay close attention to and support the process of innovation and development of Hong Kong.” – Source

Even though the company says it wants a global approach and a more transparent communication to the market, its senior executives still want the full control.

AliBaba needs two things right now: cash and popularity. It needs cash to keep up with its historic growth, as China’s economic growth is slowing down. It is still based in China, its main assets are Chinese manufacturers and it is China where AliBaba controls 80% of ecommerce. But Jack Ma was wise enough to share its company’s growth with Yahoo, which was a bless in terms of global reach and brand awareness. The company now needs to go a little further. The global media has its eyes on the New York stock exchange and AliBaba needs to show it is more than just another Chinese company.

It doesn’t matter that the company is already listing a tenfold increase in B2B transactions or the fact that the Chinese ecommerce market will reach$655 billion by 2020 . The spotlight is somewhere else. And AliBaba needs to be there.