On October 24, Alibaba founder Jack Ma gave a speech in Shanghai that seemingly altered the course of his life forever. Beforehand, the billionaire, who is China’s Jeff Bezos (or maybe Jeff Bezos is our Jack Ma, depending on how you look at things), was about to go public with his latest fintech venture, Ant, in what would have been the world’s largest IPO.
In his speech, Ma harshly criticized China’s regulatory system, noting that Chinese banks have a “pawnshop” way of doing things. “To innovate without risks is to kill innovation,” he said. “There’s no innovation without risks in the world.” To someone from the U.S., where attacking big government is a national pastime, this barely registers as criticism, but in China it was a very big deal. Reuters reported that Ma’s underlings advised him to tone down his speech and warned him that the audience would include some of the country’s most senior financial regulators. But the second-richest man in China, determined to speak his mind, disregarded that advice and went ahead with his speech as planned.