Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Using an organized seven-step approach in analyzing a case will make the entire process easier and can increase your learning benefits. (THIS IS THE GUIDE, NOT QUESTION) Read the case thor | Wridemy

Using an organized seven-step approach in analyzing a case will make the entire process easier and can increase your learning benefits. (THIS IS THE GUIDE, NOT QUESTION) Read the case thor


Using an organized seven-step approach in analyzing a case will make the entire process easier and can increase your learning benefits. (THIS IS THE GUIDE, NOT QUESTION)

  1. Read the case thoroughly. To understand fully what is happening in a case, it is necessary to read the case carefully and thoroughly. You may want to read the case rather quickly the first time to get an overview of the industry, the company, the people, and the situation. Read the case again more slowly, making notes as you go. 
  2. Define the central issue. Many cases will involve several issues or problems. Identify the most important problems and separate them from the more trivial issues. After identifying what appears to be a major underlying issue, examine related problems in the functional areas (for example, marketing, finance, personnel, and so on). Functional area problems may help you identify deep-rooted problems that are the responsibility of top management. 
  3. Define the firm's goals. Inconsistencies between a firm's goals and its performance may further highlight the problems discovered in step 2. At the very least, identifying the firm's goals will provide a guide for the remaining analysis. 
  4. Identify the constraints to the problem. The constraints may limit the solutions available to the firm. Typical constraints include limited finances, lack of additional production capacity, personnel limitations, strong competitors, relationships with suppliers and customers, and so on. Constraints have to be considered when suggesting a solution. 
  5. Identify all the relevant alternatives. The list should all the relevant alternatives that could solve the problem(s) that were identified in step 2. Use your creativity in coming up with alternative solutions. Even when solutions are suggested in the case, you may be able to suggest better solutions. 
  6. Select the best alternative. Evaluate each alternative in light of the available information. If you have carefully taken the proceeding five steps, a good solution to the case should be apparent. Resist the temptation to jump to this step early in the case analysis. You will probably miss important facts, misunderstand the problem, or skip what may be the best alternative solution. You will also need to explain the logic you used to choose one alternative and reject the others. 
  7. Develop an implementation plan. The final step in the analysis is to develop a plan for effective implementation of your decision. Lack of an implementation plan even for a very good decision can lead to disaster for a firm and for you. Do not overlook this step. Your professor will surely ask you or someone in the class to explain how to implement the decision.

Runner up between economic success

and corporate responsibility

Kannika Leelapanyalert, David Beschorner, Kim Nadine

Reckmann and Marie Aslanian (College of Management,

Mahidol University, Thailand)

Free Online Copy This is a free online copy. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons

Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit

This case is accompanied by a teaching note, available to faculty only. Please send your request to [email protected] The authors are thankful for any feedback and

suggestions to further develop this case to [email protected]

Copyright © 2015 by the authors. This case was prepared as a basis for class discussion

rather than to illustrate the effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation.

oikos Case Writing Competition 2016 Corporate Sustainability Track

oikos free case collection

oikos case collection


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3 between economic success and corporate responsibility


The Alibaba Group was one of the biggest and fastest growing businesses in China for about

ten years. Among many other companies under the holding’s umbrella, had

become the world’s most frequented market place in the Business to Business segment. The

company provided an internet platform for especially small and medium sized companies,

where western demands meet Asian supply.

Although the platform opened the door for many firms to the international markets, there

was room for improvement. Due to the increasing access to information through the World

Wide Web, customers had become more and more sensitive to what is known as corporate

responsibility. Sustainable business models and fair working conditions were more than ever

of huge importance for the customer. In order to respond to this trend, companies on the

demand side had to make sure that their suppliers fulfill not only European standards.

This trend of corporate responsibility recently caused many complaints about the listing and

transparency of the Alibaba platform. On the supply side, suppliers missed a tool for

signaling their working and quality standards to their customers. There was hardly a way to

differentiate from competitors on the webpage. On the demand side companies suffered the

same problem vice versa. There was barely a way for small western companies to control and

check quality and labor issues for their supply chain without long lasting selection and

arrangement processes.

But not only direct users of drew the attention to the Alibaba system. Years ago

many NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) claimed for more transparency and social

standards on the homepage.

Jack Ma, the CEO of Alibaba, knew about these problems. However, he also knew that many

firms that once started with poor standards were nowadays great companies with well-known

products all over the world. With a higher entry barrier, these corporations would not have

had the chance to enter the market at all. Developing from a small company with low

standards to a firm with high standards was often a long and time-consuming process.

Triggered by the recent complaints Ma was challenged by several self-imposed questions. Ma

knew that the listing and policy on his platform were deeply connected with those questions

and that there would be no easy solution. Whatever he decided should be the best answer for

all parties: The Company, the customers and society.

oikos case collection

4 between economic success and corporate responsibility

1. Introduction

On a cold morning in early February 2015 Jack Ma, CEO and founder of, sat in

his office and was deep in thought as he drank his breakfast coffee. He had just returned from

the World Economic Forum in Davos (World Economic Forum Website, 2015) to his firms’

headquarter in Hangzhou, China (Qing, 2008, p. 48). Ma was still exhausted from the lively

discussions he had had in Davos. Full of new impressions and ideas he taught about how he

could solve the issue that very often came to his mind the last weeks. He knew the challenge

he was facing might change his whole business and even the Worlds’ understanding of and

doing business with China. Ma was aware of the fact, that the different values of all actors

involved in the business of, had always been a challenge and it was not deniable

that it became more severe to handle. To align Chinese values on the one hand with the

Western principles, but also with the aims of NGO’s on the other hand, seemed to be almost

impossible. Misunderstandings, lacking tolerance and missing respect on all sides

complicated the problem.

Recently managers of came up with complaints of listed suppliers and were

worried about’s future. From their point of view, the problem was that Chinese

suppliers with a very good reputation experienced damages due to suppliers who did not

perform as well. As Alibaba offered no system that showed how good a supplier was, it was

difficult for positive evaluated suppliers to send the corresponding signals. Thus, some were

treated with mistrust, whereas they were reliable. Sometimes bad suppliers were chosen over

good ones, which in turn endangered the business of well performing suppliers. As a further

consequence, the satisfaction on the demand side decreased. Especially the challenge to find

suitable, good suppliers with a sustainable approach was discussed very often and evaluated

as nearly impossible. An improvement was wanted and the perceived lack of transparency

should be reduced (Frasch, 2014). For the evaluation of all listed suppliers, NGOs even

demanded the introduction of labels, which should indicate whether a product was

sustainable or not.

Remembering the convention in Davos Jack Ma always thought directly of the discussion

with the Chinese premier Li Keqiang (World Economic Forum Website, 2015). The politician

appealed to Jack to keep in mind that has the worlds’ attention. Therefore, he

elaborated that represents the Republic of China and the Chinese values as one

of the most successful Chinese businesses. Consequently, he made clear that it is important to

many politicians that does not totally adapt to Western principles, but sticks to

oikos case collection


the Chinese way of thinking and operating. This should also be aligned with being

internationally successful.

Jack Ma often felt that the Chinese perspective on adapting to western values is

misunderstood. As a BRIC country and with the most inhabitants worldwide, China was

fighting against huge social challenges as for example starvation. Thus adapting to Western

values often was impossible or led to effects opposite to those the adapted value was aimed

at. To Jack Ma the whole discussion was a truly important matter, especially as the conflict

often occurred when China and the Western World did business. To Ma it was extremely

important to contribute his part for finding a way to align the different perspectives without

losing the Chinese norms and values. Nevertheless, how should he find a solution that was

also beneficial to his company? How could he make the different parties understand each

other better?

2. History of was a young Chinese company whose history is elaborated in the following, with

a special focus on the company itself, the company’s environment and the competitors.

2.1 Company history

In 1995, Pinyin Ma Yun (Jack Ma), a Chinese 41-years-old English teacher at Hangzhou

University, visited the United States for the first time. During his stay a friend brought him in

contact with the Internet by telling Ma that everything can be found on it. While discovering

this new tool, Ma realized disappointedly that he could hardly find anything about China on

the Internet at all. From his point of view this had to be changed. Therefore, once back at

home, he decided to launch one of the first Chinese websites, a directory of companies, and

named it China Pages. Although this website was a failure, Ma did not hesitate to continue his

project. Thus, four years later was born. Ma Yun and 17 other partners launched in June 1999 in the city of Hangzhou. The founder realized quite early which

were the reasons of’s success. The following three reasons were named by Ma

for being able to survive: “We had no money, we had no technology and we had no plan”

(Fannin, 2008).

Jack Ma, as he was called by a Western friend and which he chose as his name accordingly,

had an unusual personality. First, he was not the traditional technology CEO. He came from a

quite poor family and had never been brilliant at school. Although he was interested in

understanding foreigners and their culture by learning English, he never excelled as a student

oikos case collection


and failed the college entrance exam twice. He finally became an English teacher at a local

university earning only $12 a month. However, Alibaba’s success could not have developed

without the lively and vivid character Jack was, therefore being called “Crazy Jack”. He was a

captivating speaker with an animating manner of speaking. As he said in “Alibaba” – a book

written in 2009 by Shiying and Avery: "I was never afraid of opponents who were bigger

than I". Jack Ma perfectly knew how to motivate his employees providing them a funny,

productive and familiar atmosphere at the company. Porter Erisman, an early Alibaba

employee, said it was like a close-knit family. Since the beginning, “Ma motivated the team by

creating an ethos of being a scrappy little company ready to take on giants” (D’Onfro, 2014).

Also Jack Ma knew that his dedication was to help to fulfill the needs of Chinese citizens. His

aim was to align this with the benefits of his company.

Ma found several ways for motivating his people and giving vision to his staff. In one of his

letters, Jack Ma said to his employees: "We know well we have not survived because our

strategies are farsighted and brilliant, or because our execution is perfect, but because for 15

years we have persevered in our mission of 'making it easier to do business across the world,'

because we have insisted on a 'customer first' value system, because we have persisted in

believing in the future, and because we have insisted that normal people can do extraordinary

things." (D’Onfro, 2014).

Between 1999 and 2000, the company raised $25 million from Goldman Sachs, Softbank

Corporation and other institutions and wrote a pure success story. The vision of Ma was to

create a global company with local win. He chose the name “Alibaba” because everyone in the

world was able to understand it and since it referred to the notions of openness, kindness and

business. The company was born to be global, but since the beginning focused on helping

small and medium sized Chinese companies to survive by giving them a mean to make money

especially by enabling them to reach their customers online. The founders’ idea was simple

and could be summarized by “click and get it”. Contrary to other Chinese Internet-business

founders, Ma did not try to copy the U.S. model but was innovative. He decided to adapt his

strategy to the Chinese market and its specific needs. His self-imposed vision and mission

was to build an e-commerce ecosystem that was profitable for both buyers and sellers.

In 2002, Ma realized that although had a lot of listed members, most actually

did not pay anything. However, he knew that this was not a profitable business model. Profit

was realized for the first time in 2002, as he imagined how Chinese suppliers could reach US

buyers online. At this time, Ma decided to hire foreign experts in order to help the company

to become a global player. At that point of´s lifecycle the actual vice president,

Porter Erisman, came in. According to him, Chinese people in general had very little

oikos case collection


experience in management. He thought that the success of came from the fact

that since the beginning the aim was to connect importers and exporters from all over the

world. “It was the first global Internet Company emerging from China” (Walraven, 2009).

Nevertheless, he was convinced that in order to succeed internationally, Alibaba first needed

to prosper in China. The company could not have survived without the domestic sale.

In 2015 was the world’s first platform for wholesale trade and was highly

profitable. The aim of was to give buyers from all over the world the widest

variety of options in choosing their products through a web platform. In order to do so,

buyers were connected with a large amount of international suppliers. made

both supplier’s and buyer’s lives easier since it enabled them to come in touch with each

other, which in turn allowed the involved actors to do business across borders. As a company, could be used to find all needed products in over 40 different categories ranging

from electronics to textiles to agriculture and food. This was unique, as almost everything

could be purchased via The business model to develop an e-commerce

platform, which connects Chinese suppliers with customers from all over the world, was an

invention itself. was one of the biggest and the earliest e-commerce platform for

wholesalers. Unique was especially, that every supplier could be listed no matter where it was

headquartered. Thus even small suppliers from rural areas where able to participate in the

global market due to diminishing small communication costs. Additionally,

could be seen as a kind of “Gateway to China”, connecting the Western World rapidly and

cheaply with the Chinese industry. belonged to the Alibaba Group as far as 72% (Alibaba Group website, 2015). In

general, the Alibaba Group hold several different Internet-based businesses. was

the first company of the group and, as previously elaborated, it was focused only on business-

to-business. The second business which was created was Taobao in 2003. In 2015, it was the

first online shopping marketplace for Chinese private individuals and the main rival of eBay.

Later, Alimama, an advertising exchange platform, and Alipay, a Chinese leading online

payment service, were launched, followed by several other Internet-businesses. Although this

case is focused on it is necessary to keep in mind that the growth of the company

over the time was not only due to its unique businesses, but also to a multitude of interrelated


2.2 Market and Industry environment

E-commerce – or Electronic Business – is a way of trading by using computing networks such

as the Internet (Springer Gabler Verlag). It is the process of selling and purchasing goods or

services over the Internet by using for example secure connections and electronic payment

oikos case collection


services. It became possible in 1991 when the Internet was opened to commercial use. At the

beginning of 2002, Business-to-Business, the largest form of e-commerce, had aroused

around $700 billion in transactions. By the end of 2007, E-commerce sales counted for 3.5%

of total sales in the world (Ecommerce-Land, 2001).

Both online buyers and sellers achieved advantages in doing e-commerce, especially at On the one hand, consumers had a large database of products and services and

they could compare prices easily in order to obtain the best one. On the other hand, online

vendors got a cheaper way to be selected by their customers. Even the smallest brands could

reach global markets. Moreover, web technology enabled to track customer preferences and

to deliver individually tailored marketing (, 2015).

It was expected that in the future e-commerce would confirm itself as a major tool of global

trade. E-shopping should become more and more popular and commonly used at work

although not used privately. In 2015, competition between the several websites became

severe and experts assumed that the developments would lead to an enormous growth of

Internet sales in the 21st century. Since the Internet excluded geographical factor, the location

of the stores did not matter anymore. However, the online sellers became competitive by

adapting themselves quickly to the new environment. They had to pay attention to e-

marketing details and used modern technologies to improve their website design and

presentation in order to make their platform user-friendly and to stay competitive in the

world of E-commerce.

Chinese market: a new huge market for e-commerce industry

During the 2000’s, China and the Chinese life underwent various changes. Since its adhesion

to WTO in December 2001, China moved on to modernize step by step (World Trade

Organization, 2015). Consequently, the total volume export of China was growing extremely.

China started to be seen as the manufacturer of the world, and an increasing number of low-

cost suppliers was entering the marketplace. As around 2000 the Internet just started to

become significant in China, could not have been created at a better time than in

1999. Just in time, as the Chinese people were able to realize that it was worth opening

themselves to the world, appeared. International trade was increasing, China

was opening its borders, the Internet was growing and more and more people got Internet


As put in evidence on their website, “to understand Alibaba, one must

understand how China is changing”. With the turn of the millennium, e-commerce became a

way of life for China’s aspirational middle class. Indeed, in 2013 China overtook the United

oikos case collection


States in becoming the first e-commerce market (in 2015, $672b in China VS $349b in the

US) and the biggest e-commerce provider in the world (Alibaba Group Website, 2015).

However, as the case focusses on, which is B2B focussed, it is necessary to

explain E-commerce in the B2B sector in the following:

B2B form of e-commerce

Three architectural models of B2B commerce exist:

– Supplier oriented marketplace: the supplier provides marketplace (e-store) to his


– Buyer oriented marketplace: the buyer has his own marketplace (e-market). He

invites suppliers to bid in product’s catalogue.

– Intermediary oriented marketplace: an intermediary company runs a marketplace

where business buyers and sellers can interact and transact with each other (Beynon-

Davies, 2013, S. 250ff.). could be defined as being an intermediary oriented marketplace because of the

fact that the buyers and the sellers had been directly interconnected since the first step of the


As a matter of fact, business customers had a different approach than individual consumers.

Their purchasing decisions were described as being cooler, harder and more logical than

individual consumers’ decisions. The act of purchasing could not be an impulse buy but was a

very careful decision because it concerned the whole company. Purchasers always had

supervisors, who should not be deceived.

A B-to-B commerce website had to focus on providing as much useful information and

customer service as possible in a short time frame in order to make the purchase decision

easier (Beynon-Davies, 2013).

Regional developments of China

Because of the fact that the coastal areas of China offered a unique transportation system, the

economic development in those regions was way more rapid than in inner of China. However,

the National Bureau of Statistics of China reported that the number of firms in rural areas

was increasing. For example, the number of enterprises grew by nearly 28 percent from 2012

to 2015 (National Bureau of Statistics, 2015). The report “A new era for manufacturing in

oikos case collection


China” published by McKinsey in 2013 discussed the fact that especially suppliers, who

manufactured fast-moving consumer goods were increasingly producing in smaller

enterprises. Those were often not located in the big cities as e.g. Beijing or Shanghai (Eloot,

K., Huang, A. & Lehnich, M. (2013), but in rural areas. Thus, the total number of companies

across less developed ranges of China increased. Especially firms in rural areas were

challenged by how to get into contract with potential clients and especially with customers

from the other end of the world? offered a unique business model helping to

solve that problem by offering a platform, which connected Chinese suppliers with clients

from all over the world easily and fast. To Jack Ma it was especially important not only to

offer the platform, but also to support new listed firms by entering e-commerce. Also firms

located in wealthier and a lot more central regions welcomed as an efficient way

to do business.

2.3 Competitors

The two world-known American companies eBay and Amazon were the first to start selling

products over the Internet respectively in 1994 and 1995. Although entered the

market la

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