After meeting with President Donald Trump in early 2017, Alibaba Group ($BABA) CEO Jack Ma announced that he would create a million jobs in America. Trump followed up by saying, "Jack and I are going to do some great things."
But it seems new tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing are getting in the way, and Ma is now saying that the promise of a million jobs can't be fulfilled.
"This promise was on the basis of friendly China-US cooperation and reasonable bilateral trade relations," he said in an interview with China's official news agency, Xinhua. "This promise can't be completed."
To be clear, the promise by Ma was never to hire a million Americans. Instead, it was based on the notion that if free and open trade continued, Alibaba would be in a position to help small American businesses grow by selling their products on the Alibaba platform to a massive consumer base in China and other Asian territories.
But we can paint a fairly accurate picture of how many people Alibaba employs, and it has rapidly expanded its workforce.
In March 2018, Alibaba claimed 66,421 employees in its Quarterly Results documentation. Three months later, in its June 2018 Quarterly Results, it listed 86,833 employees — an increase of 20,412, or 31% in just a quarter.
But when it comes to western employees for Alibaba — and those who claim the company as an employer on LinkedIn — the numbers are understandably smaller (LinkedIn only has a 3% market penetration in China), but show a slowing growth trend.
On March 31, 2018, 20,900 people listed Alibaba as their employer. On June 31, 2018, that number was 22,100. That's an increase of just 6%, a much slower clip than the overall 31% growth in employees Alibaba reported.
TaoBao Marketplace is Alibaba's e-commerce marketplace, and it's the biggest of its kind in the world — even larger than Amazon. Looking at TaoBao employees on LinkedIn, we see similar slowdown compared to Alibaba's overall numbers. On March 31, 2018, 14,200 LinkedIn users listed TaoBao as their employer. On June 31, that number was 14,500, marking an increase of just 300 positions, or 2%.
As of today, Alibaba lists around 910 jobs on its careers website. It's not clear if those listings are all of the company's openings, or just the ones it cares to list on its English-language site (many of the openings are listed in Chinese, so it's possible those Chinese listings make up the complete international openings list).
Given the slowing arc of employers on LinkedIn along with the recent tariff-related announcements, it's unlikely that Ma's pledge about 1 million jobs was ever meant to be completely accurate. And if it was, hiring activity at the company — at least in the west — didn't show any urgency in regards to bolstering its teams to support growth in the United States, even on an affiliate level.