Alibaba Group in May hung out an international “help wanted” sign with the announcement of a global recruitment and training program called the Alibaba Global Leadership Academy (AGLA). This week the first batch of 32 young professionals arrived at the e-commerce giant’s corporate campus in Hangzhou, China, to begin a year of cultural immersion, leadership training, and on-the-job experience that includes work at various Alibaba business units.
The official start of AGLA might seem less than newsworthy considering the scale and scope of Alibaba’s businesses—the company has more than 46,000 employees. But the program is a reminder of Alibaba’s ambitious plans to expand its operations internationally, which executives say cannot be accomplished without significant changes to its overwhelmingly Chinese workforce.
“The world is more connected than ever before. People who can work across cultures and languages represent the future,” said Jack Ma, Alibaba Executive Chairman. “We know that for Alibaba to have a meaningful global impact, we have to be able to understand other cultures, respect other cultures and appreciate other cultures. The AGLA is one way we are building that trust and mutual understanding.”
Selected from 3,000 applicants, the inaugural class of 2016 is certainly diverse. Program participants hail from 14 countries as well as from top universities such as Harvard, Yale, Wharton, Oxford, Cambridge and the Indian Institute of Technology. Alibaba said it screened candidates based on learning ability, strategic and innovative thinking, and cultural fit for the company, among other factors. Being able to speak Chinese was not essential. Half the class have no Mandarin skills.
In addition to on-the-job training at Alibaba, AGLA participants will be exposed to China’s rapidly developing internet and e-commerce sectors, and will also learn about China’s history, arts and trade. After one year, AGLA graduates will be dispatched to work in Alibaba’s offices in the U.S., the U.K., Europe, India and Southeast Asia. The company said it expects to enlarge the class size for the yearlong program to 102 participants.
Brian Wong, an Alibaba vice president and AGLA executive director, said the program was “designed to provide a grounding in the cultural and industry context of Alibaba to enable our future global leaders to effectively collaborate in China and across borders. At the same time, we intend to strengthen our headquarters’ global capabilities through the interactions and contributions of our AGLA participants in China.” He added the program will help “build a strong foundation for our future international footprint.”
Alibaba executives have set a goal to serve 2 billion consumers and tens of millions of merchants worldwide in coming years. Over the past 12 months, the company has opened offices in Italy, France, Germany, India, the U.K. and the Netherlands, and a new Australia office is expected to open by the end of the year. In Southeast Asia, the company also acquired a controlling stake in e-commerce business Lazada, which is based in Singapore and operates in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.