Library / 'Do-not-waste-your-time' Books

Date of review: January 2022
Book author: Ming Zeng
Вook published: 2018

Smart Business: What Alibaba's Success Reveals about the Future of Strategy by Ming Zeng (2018)

The book's central message is that Alibaba is not a traditional company but an ecosystem. The author highlighted two key drivers of the company's strategy: Network coordination and Data intelligence.
I have decided to read this book as part of my due diligence on Alibaba. The first book I read on the company was 'The House That Jack Ma Built', which I reviewed HERE. The second part of the title was quite promising ('What Alibaba's Success Reveals about the Future of Success'). Moreover, the author worked as a Chief's Strategy Officer at Alibaba and used to be a professor at INSEAD.

I was disappointed by how simple the content of the book was. The central message that Alibaba is not a traditional company, but an eco-system was repeated in different contexts dozens of times in the book. The author also highlighted two key drivers of the company's strategy: Network coordination and Data intelligence.

I found the content relatively shallow, something that I would expect to find on a free internet library by a little known blogger.

However, I do not think this is necessarily bad for Alibaba's investment case. It could be that the author was just unlucky with the book or was deliberately evasive in the details. But I also think that the company's success lies in relentless execution and a culture full of energy, enthusiasm and innovation.

It is quite challenging for an academic to express the strategy of a company founded in a small flat with little capital but tremendous vision and determination.

In a way, I was optimistic about Alibaba after reading this book because if there had been a secret formula or algorithm that catapulted it to the top ranks, at some point, competitors could have discovered this code and replicated it. It is much harder to replicate team culture, innovative spirit, collaboration and ambitions.

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