The Alibaba Global Leadership Academy Is Awesome. You Should Apply. Like Right Now. (Pt 2 of 3)


In Part 1, I talked about visiting the Alibaba campus and how they are attempting to take their unique culture international. It is an interesting management, people and skills problem. And I think it is one that more and more Chinese companies are going to grapple with. How do you build a true Chinese multinational? What does that look like?

As part of this effort, Alibaba has recently launched the Alibaba Global Leadership Academy (AGLA). And I got an invitation to visit from Quintus Dienst, one of this year’s 20 attendees. I ended up giving a talk, meeting some of the students and chatting with AGLA heads Brian Wong and David Clark.

My basic conclusion is that AGLA is awesome. You should totally apply. Here’s the link. And do it now, before this program becomes super popular and impossible to get accepted.

Why the Alibaba Global Leadership Academy is awesome

Several years ago, I was a Fellow at Judge Business School at Cambridge University in the UK. And I would occasionally teach Chinese executives from companies like ICBC and China Merchants Securities. They would come to Cambridge to live and study for weeks and sometimes months. Their courses would focus on international business and the idea was they would then be placed in the international divisions of their companies. It was about Chinese executives trying to become more international as business people – and helping their companies expand internationally. A lot of Chinese banks were doing this and foreign MBA programs really liked the revenue (note: Executive Education is one of the reasons business schools always have way more revenue than other graduate programs).

Alibaba’s approach is basically the inverse of this. They are not trying to turn Chinese business people into international business people. They are trying to turn foreign business people into Alibaba people. AGLA is a core part of this effort.

In 2016, Alibaba launched the Alibaba Global Leadership Academy with the title of “Connect the World, Shape the Future.” They are now in their second year of having 20-30 professionals from around the world come to Hangzhou and spend a year living in China and working at Alibaba.

The students (I’ll call them students but they aren’t really):

  • Rotate through several of the businesses units
  • Learn the Alibaba way
  • Get some top-tier e-commerce operational experience.
  • The students also have classes and seminars. They meet invited speakers (hello).
  • The goal of the program is to “go global”, “build bench strength” and “build trust”. They want these students to be “mini-Kissingers”, people who can become true bridges.

And they take some pretty cool trips around China.

The students also live in local Hangzhou housing. This part is actually pretty important. The program is about understanding both Alibaba and China. You can’t really understand working at a Chinese company until you have spent some time in the operational trenches. And you also can’t really understand Chinese e-commerce without having lived regular life in China. So the students rent regular apartments, open bank accounts, get on WeChat (sorry Alibaba mgmt. but it’s true), pay their electricity bills, shop at the local market and so on. They become local (to some degree).

After a year in the program, the students (in theory) head back to their home countries and probably work in Alibaba there (although not required).

Who attends the AGLA?

The second AGLA class of students began on Jul 8, 2017. Some basic facts about them:

  • These twenty students came from companies such as JP Morgan, Microsoft, Lazada, McKinsey & Co, P&G and Parthenon. So definitely a lot of people from brand-name finance and consulting firms (or as I call them “my people’) but also a lot of people from start-ups, e-commerce, insurance and IT and FMCG.
  • The average age was 29, with an average of 5 years working experience.
  • They had degrees from 18 university, including Harvard, Wharton, Oxford, Singapore management, CEIBS, LSE.
  • They came from the US, Europe and Asia.
  • Only about 20% had advanced Mandarin ability.


I’ll tell you a bit about some of the individual students in a moment. But I am someone who works in graduate education and talks with people early in their careers virtually every week. So I’m just going to jump to my conclusion without much argument.

Basically, this program is fantastic. You get to spend a year working with the “best of the best”. It is the type of experience that has enough depth and challenge that it can alter the course of your career. Certain years can change your life. This is that kind of thing.

Working in Alibaba and living in Hanghzou puts you at an epicenter of e-commerce and digital innovation. It’s like working at Apple or Microsoft in 1980. You’re in the best possible place at the best possible time. And you’re surrounded by the best people – which is also really important. And I’m not just talking about the managers. Your fellow attendees are young people who are going places in life. It’s the kind of peer group you want.

I went to dinner with some of the students and then gave them a quick talk on digital China (my area). It was clear it was a fantastic group.

So if you are eligible, you should apply. In five years, this program is going to be impossible to get into. So apply while it’s still beginning. Like right now. Like stop reading this and click this link.

Responses and bios of a couple of this year’s students

I sent a couple of this year’s students some questions about their backgrounds, why they applied and about their experience at Alibaba thus far. The replies are their own words – and are linked below. I really recommend reading these.

That’s it for Part 2. In Part 3, I will introduce you to some of the execs behind all this.

Thanks for reading. Here are some more pictures of the students on some of their trips. Part 1 is below and Part 3 is here.

Cheers, Jeff


I write, speak and consult about how to win (and not lose) in digital strategy and transformation.

I am the founder of TechMoat Consulting, a boutique consulting firm that helps retailers, brands, and technology companies exploit digital change to grow faster, innovate better and build digital moats. Get in touch here.

My book series Moats and Marathons is one-of-a-kind framework for building and measuring competitive advantages in digital businesses.

Note: This content (articles, podcasts, website info) is not investment advice. The information and opinions from me and any guests may be incorrect. The numbers and information may be wrong. The views expressed may no longer be relevant or accurate. Investing is risky. Do your own research.

Photos courtesy of Alibaba. Top photo source

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