China’s richest man expects staff to work 72 hours every week

‘If you won’t work 12 hours a day, six days a week don’t even bother applying’: China’s richest man Jack Ma worth a whopping $32bn calls his Alibaba web giant’s deadly work culture a ‘huge blessing’

  • Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, has praised his company’s 72-hour working week
  • Staff at the firm are expected to work between 9am and 9pm six days a week
  • The billionaire expressed pity to those who are not allowed to put in such hours 

China’s richest man has praised the long hours expected of workers in high tech companies as a ‘huge blessing’ for young workers. 

Jack Ma, founder of online marketplace Alibaba, defended the company’s ‘996’ work schedule – which expects employees to submit to 12-hour shifts between 9am and 9pm during a six-day week.  

Of the 168 hours in a week, Alibaba employees are expected to spend at least 72 of them while in work. 

China’s richest man said his employees were ‘lucky’ to be working 72 hours a week

Ma was discussing the perceived lack of work-life balance among Chinese high tech workers. 

He told employees: ‘I personally think that being able to work 996 is a huge blessing,’ he said in remarks posted on the company’s WeChat account.

‘Many companies and many people don’t have the opportunity to work 996. If you don’t work 996 when you are young, when can you ever work 996?’

The issue has fuelled an online debate and protests on some coding platforms, where workers have swapped examples of excessive overtime demands at some companies.

Ma, a former English teacher who co-founded Alibaba in 1999 and has become one of China’s richest people, said he and early employees regularly worked long hours.

‘In this world, everyone wants success, wants a nice life, wants to be respected,’ Ma said.

‘Let me ask everyone, if you don’t put out more time and energy than others, how can you achieve the success you want?’

Ma referred to the tech industry today where some people are without jobs, or working at companies in search of revenue or facing closure.

‘Compared to them, up to this day, I still feel lucky, I don’t regret (working 12 hour days), I would never change this part of me,’ he said.

Staff at Alibaba are expected work between 9am and 9pm six days a week. He said the 72-hour week was ‘a huge blessing’

This month activists on Microsoft’s GitHub, the online code repository site, launched a project titled ‘996.ICU’ where tech workers listed Alibaba among the companies ranked as having some of the worst working conditions.

On Thursday, an opinion piece published in a state newspaper argued that 996 violated China’s Labor Law, which stipulates that average work hours cannot exceed 40 hours a week.

‘Creating a corporate culture of ‘encouraged overtime’ will not only not help a business’ core competitiveness, it might inhibit and damage a company’s ability to innovate,’ the unnamed author wrote in the People’s Daily.

Who is Jack Ma? The richest Chinese person on the planet

Founder and Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma is seen at the ‘Ma Yun Rural Teachers and Headmasters Prize’ on January 13th, 2019 in Sanya, China

Jack Ma was a cash-strapped Chinese entrepreneur and former English teacher when he convinced friends to give him $60,000 (£45,000) to start a Chinese e-commerce firm called Alibaba in 1999.

Two decades later, Alibaba is an internet juggernaut and Ma is among the world’s richest men. 

Alibaba Group includes for business-to-consumer transactions and Taobao, China’s most popular online consumer marketplace with hundreds of millions of products and services listed.

The company has now become a player in online payments and films, and it has been pouring investment into an array of ventures, including bricks-and-mortar retail, cloud computing, meal delivery and advertising.

It owns a stake in China’s hugely popular Twitter-like Weibo platform and in 2015 it bought the South China Morning Post newspaper.

Ma, whose Chinese name is Ma Yun (马云), has often described himself as something on an accidental entrepreneur, giving up his university teaching for the hustle of trade after discovering the internet.

Seeing an opportunity for small businesses to buy and sell their goods online, he started Alibaba, initially running the company out of his apartment in the eastern city of Hangzhou, where the company’s headquarters remains.

He has inspired strong devotion among his employees and users, drawing comparisons with late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs – although he practices a more open management style.

He is one of the most colourful of China’s growing cop of billionaires, performing a Michael Jackson-inspired dance routine at the company’s 18th anniversary celebration last year, and starring in his own kung fu short film.

Last September, the tycoon announced his plan for a gradual retirement in 2019 to devote his time to philanthropy focused on education. 


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