Welcome to Alibaba’s global headquarters … in China’s futuristic city of Hangzhou

December 2, 2018

Welcome to Hangzhou.

Home to Asia’s most valuable company Alibaba, and its enormous headquarters campus.

The eastern Chinese city, capital of Zhejiang Province, is a modern and also home to 9.1 million people, with building work everywhere. It is fiercely proud of its innovative reputation and the fact it is well on the way to becoming a completely cashless society.

Alibaba is a huge part of this transformation and its vast campus symbolises the direction in which the city is heading. Its nine buildings are set over a campus measuring 300,000 square metres, with a large wetland park situated in the centre – a far cry from the gridlocked traffic just a few hundred metres away.

A recent article by GBTimes demonstrates that Alibaba is a company that likes to look after its employees. It currently has 70,000 full-time workers on its books, with another 60,000 outsourced. Part of the recruitment process involves having to perform a handstand, either by yourself or with the help of a team. This idea originates from the company’s early days when staff would wake themselves up after a long session writing code by performing the move.

Once in employment, an individual must choose an ‘Alibaba name’ which they feel best represents them as a person – a moniker which stays with them throughout their career at the firm.

The main building’s corridors are dotted with tea and coffee facilities set among sofas and well-lit, relaxation areas. Signs remind staff to “relax and have a cup of tea”, while a large family room that represents an airport lounge lets employees entertain their children and spend time with loved ones.

Both Starbucks and Costa, two of the world’s largest coffee chains, are also in situ on campus. Indeed, the former’s outlet is its busiest in China due to the sheer volume of Alibaba staff who work at the site.

Perpendicular to the caffeine shrine is an expansive, state-of-the-art 24-hour gym that encourages workers to stay in shape. While it is expected that long hours are a part of working at Alibaba, owner Jack Ma is keen to emphasise that they needn’t all be spent working.

‘Alibaba bikes’ can be found across the entire campus. The firm was the first to introduce this concept, which has gone on to become a global phenomenon. Employees no longer need to run the large distances between buildings for meetings – instead they can ride there with ease.

Back in the main building, a massive cafeteria offers a huge range of different, freshly-cooked food at a very reasonable price, as well as an entire wall of vending machines stocked with a variety of interesting and brightly coloured snacks and drinks.

On the first floor, outside yet another coffee establishment, is a large sign with the number ‘102’ emblazoned across it. This number is highly symbolic to Alibaba and everyone who works there knows exactly why.

The company was established in 1999 by Jack Ma and 18 other co-founders. When they began, Ma stated that he hoped the firm would live for 102 years as this would carry them into the 21st century and the next, meaning that Alibaba had existed through three centuries.

Located at the far end of the headquarters is a residential block that offers accommodation for nearly 2,000 staff. People can apply to be part of a lottery, with the winners given the keys to an apartment along with a rent rate that is much, much cheaper than in other parts of the city.

As well as employees, the environment plays a big part in the ethos of Alibaba. Prominent between the reception area and the wetlands garden is a placard that reads ‘Three Hours for a Better World’. This idea was dreamt up by Ma to ensure that each employee gives three hours of their time per year to others. Only a maximum of thirty minutes can be donated in wages, meaning each worker has to think of a more physical way to give back to the community – such as picking litter up off the streets or helping the elderly.

Venue 9 is a mysterious building, set back from the main offices and built in a different manner to its neighbours. Normally only ever opened for dignitaries and national leaders, gbtimes.com was afforded a rare glimpse at this high-tech museum, which offers a glance not only at Alibaba’s humble beginnings atop the Great Wall of China, but at its plans to become a deeply modern and global behemoth.

Inside, guests are initially greeted by a rather stark room which offers a beautiful vista of the wetland garden, with various gifts from visiting foreign officials dotted around in glass cases. However, what dominates this area is the vast digital screen on the left-hand side.

The display is an interactive, real-time map of Hangzhou, showing the exact location of every purchase being made using Alibaba and how much is being bought at that exact moment. It is a fascinating glimpse into the sheer volume of trade the company is doing at any one time and the uber-modern way in which it can be showcased.

What follows seems like a glimpse into the future. Concepts such as Hema Xiansheng, or Mr Hippo, are as astounding as they are innovative. There are currently 50 Hema shops in China, with five of them based in Hangzhou and another 50 planned by 2019 across the country.

They specialise in seafood, meat, fresh fruit and berries. The promise is that if you live within a 3 km radius of one of these shops, personnel can kill the seafood and have it delivered, prepared or raw, to your door within 30 minutes, along with any ingredients or sides you may wish to purchase – all free of charge.

Other ideas include a rival to Amazon’s Echo, which can turn on your vacuum cleaner, read your children a bedtime story and order your food, a smart fridge, smart hotels and Dingtalk which seeks to combine social media and business into one, unique service.

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