MOL

Beijing

When he floated the giant online shopping company he founded on Wall St for $22billion, Alibaba’s Jack Ma was catapulted into the public eye in the West.

But, while investors in America were getting their first glimpse of Ma, 50, a study of him in his native China reveals a larger-than-life figure who performs karaoke on stage for thousands of his employees - and even marries them.

Ma, who founded Alibaba from a tiny flat in China in 1999, showed some of his personality to investors as the company floated, declaring on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange that his hero was Forrest Gump.

But back on Chinese soil the man behind the internet giant, which, dwarfs Facebook and Amazon with its $230billion valuation and has reportedly made him China’s richest man, lives an even more bizarre lifestyle. New footage of the billionaire on home soil, taken by CBS’s 60 Minutes over the past year, shows Ma appearing on stage in glam rock gear in front of massive crowds, as well as conducting mass wedding celebrations for more than 700 of his employees. According to Ma himself - who seemed bemused to discover this is not typical CEO behavior - it is all to boost the happiness of his employees, who adore him and crowd round for photos at every opportunity. At one point, the businessman is pictured in outlandish punk rock gear, including a leather jacket, sunglasses, nose jewelry, a white wig and a, red mohawk-style headdress serenading a huge crowd to celebrate a company anniversary.

After entering the stage to the theme tune from Disney’s Lion King movie, he is later heard singing You Are So Beautiful - to rapturous applause.

Ma, who saw the internet for the first time in 1995, and returned to China determined to make it a viable business there, has made his company the biggest online retailer on earth, and himself one of China’s most powerful men.

It is a far cry from his humble beginnings, where had grew up in rural Hangzhou with not enough to eat, and failed two college entrance exams in his hometown.

Before he came up with the idea to found Alibaba, he taught English, but was rejected for more than a dozen other jobs, including a post at KFC.

The online retailer smashed records with its offering - the largest in US history - and is now as valuable as Facebook after its first day on Wall Street.

The e-commerce powerhouse, which sells anything from fat suits to live animals, started the day valued more than Amazon and eBay at $168 billion, and sent tremors through the market as it floated stocks priced at $68 per share.

Shares quickly jumped to $98 once trading finally launched at 11.53am - after a delayed start due to an overwhelming influx of orders.

Now, the firm is worth $230 billion - more than Facebook - as stocks closed at $93, up 38 per cent.

Ma also revealed another bizarre tradition at the company - mass wedding celebrations for his employees, which bring together as many as 700 couples for a huge celebration.

The founder is filmed marching onto a pink stage, surrounded by heart motifs and a giant screen, congratulating his employees on their marriages as they film him on smartphones and tablets, cheering at every opportunity.

When told that American CEOs are not in the habit of presiding over weddings, Ma told his interviewer: ‘They should learn - and they should make their employees happy.’

He said the tradition stems from the 2003 outbreak of SARs in China, when he and many of his employees were quarantined for more than a week.

Ma said that his relief on being allowed to leave made him appreciate living so much he started throwing parties for his workers.

He said he told himself: ‘Life is so short, so beautiful - don’t be so serious about the work, enjoy the lifes [sic].’

Ma himself is thought to have made some $14billion - enough to put him in the 71st spot on Forbes’ list of global billionaires, ahead of media mogul Rupert Murdoch ($13.5billion) and fashion designer Giorgio Armani ($9.9billion).

In 15 years the firm has risen from a start-up in an apartment 100 miles outside the city of Shanghai to become a juggernaut bigger than Hewlett Packard.

Alibaba is based in Hangzhou in Eastern China, Ma’s hometown.

The company got started in 1999 when Ma and 17 friends developed a fledgling e-commerce company on the cusp of the Internet boom.

Ma, who founded the company in a one-bedroom apartment, will have a paper fortune worth some $14 billion, vaulting him into the ranks of tech billionaires like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.

Alibaba has been described as China’s answer to eBay, but it actually handles more packages annually than eBay and Amazon combined.

Investors hope a stake in the firm will give them exposure to China’s rapid-growth internet sector.

The stock started trading on on September 19 under the ticker ‘BABA’ on the NYSE.

As part of the so-called roadshow, would-be investors heard a sales pitch that centered on Alibaba’s strong revenue growth and seemingly endless possibilities for expansion, which led to stocks closing at $93, indicating an overall valuation of a huge $230billion.