Shiso Crispy, timing was much tricker: she opened her first truck in November 2019, just a few months before the pandemic. And yet Ms. Whaley, 35, who offers handmade gyozas, bao buns and their signature dish, dirty rice, now has two trucks because of a strategy of regularly parking in certain neighborhoods and offering discounted and free meals outside a nearby Ronald McDonald House. (She added the second truck in January.)

One challenge: “The internet here is shoddy. And cellphone service in different areas out here just doesn’t work,” she said. “During the height of the pandemic, I was consistently losing two or more transactions at my point of sale every shift.”

Clover Flex point of sale program for touchless transactions. “It has digitally transformed my business,” Ms. Whaley said.

She also signed on to an app, called Best Food Trucks, that allows customers near her to pre-order once they know her location for the day.

“The inextricably connected stories of food trucks and Covid are a perfect microcosm of the undeniable reality that women, immigrants and people of color, historically relegated to the edges of the economy, are actually the foundation upon which the next economy must be built,” said Nathalie Molina Niño, author of “Leapfrog: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs.”

But the silver lining from the pandemic for some operators is more personal — including bringing families together. “I have a ton of wisdom about how to operate food trucks and cooking,” Ms. Jimenez said. “It’s the coming together of the generations that made the business stronger now and for the future.”

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Mr. Beast, YouTube Star, Wants to Take Over the Business World

Mr. Donaldson declined to be interviewed. A representative for him declined to address the working conditions at his companies but said of the videos with offensive content: “When Jimmy was a teenager and was first starting out, he carelessly used, on more than one occasion, a gay slur. Jimmy knows there is no excuse for homophobic rhetoric.” The representative added that Mr. Donaldson “has grown up and matured into someone that doesn’t speak like that.”

Many younger creators said they wanted to emulate Mr. Donaldson’s entrepreneurial path.

“I think Mr. Beast inspires all of Gen Z,” said Josh Richards, 19, a TikTok creator in Los Angeles with nearly 25 million followers. “He’s giving a lot of kids a new path to take, to teach these young kids on how to be entrepreneurial, not just to get a lot of views or become famous.”

Like many members of Generation Z, Mr. Donaldson, who grew up in Greenville, N.C., founded a YouTube channel when he was in middle school, back in 2012.

To crack YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, he initially cycled through different genres of video making. He posted videos of himself playing games like Call of Duty, commented on YouTube drama, uploaded funny video compilations and livestreamed himself reacting to videos on the internet.

Then in 2018, he mastered the format that would make him a star: stunt philanthropy. Mr. Donaldson filmed himself giving away thousands of dollars in cash to random people, including his Uber driver or people experiencing homelessness, capturing their shock and joy in the process. The money initially came mostly from brand sponsorships.

It turned out to be a perfect viral recipe that mixed money, a larger-than-life persona and wholesome reactions. Millions began watching his YouTube videos. Mr. Donaldson soon rebranded himself as “YouTube’s biggest philanthropist.”

The combination was also lucrative. Though Mr. Donaldson gave away increasingly large amounts — from $100,000 to $1 million — he made it all back and more with the advertising that ran alongside the videos. He also sold merchandise like socks ($18), water bottles ($27) and T-shirts ($28).

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Biden Confronts Coronavirus Vaccine Patents

WASHINGTON — President Biden, faced with surging Covid-19 crises in India and South America, is under intensifying pressure from the international community and his party’s left flank to commit to increasing the vaccine supply by loosening patent and intellectual property protections on coronavirus vaccines.

Pharmaceutical and biotech companies, also feeling pressure, sought on Monday to head off such a move, which could cut into future profits and jeopardize their business model. Pfizer and Moderna, two major vaccine makers, each announced steps to increase the supply of vaccine around the world.

The issue is coming to a head as the World Trade Organization’s General Council, one of its highest decision-making bodies, meets Wednesday and Thursday. India and South Africa are pressing for the body to waive an international intellectual property agreement that protects pharmaceutical trade secrets. The United States, Britain and the European Union so far have blocked the plan.

Inside the White House, health advisers to the president admit they are divided. Some say that Mr. Biden has a moral imperative to act, and that it is bad politics for the president to side with pharmaceutical executives. Others say spilling closely guarded but highly complex trade secrets into the open would do nothing to expand the global supply of vaccines.

promised the liberal health activist Ady Barkan, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., that he would “absolutely positively” commit to sharing technology and access to a coronavirus vaccine if the United States developed one first. Activists plan to remind Mr. Biden of that promise during a rally scheduled for Wednesday on the National Mall.

proposal by India and South Africa would exempt World Trade Organization member countries from enforcing some patents, trade secrets or pharmaceutical monopolies under the body’s agreement on trade-related intellectual property rights, known as TRIPS. The idea would be to allow drug companies in other countries to make or import cheap generic copies.

Proponents say the waiver would free innovators in other countries to pursue their own coronavirus vaccines, without fear of patent infringement lawsuits. They also note that the proposed waiver goes beyond vaccines, and would encompass intellectual property for therapeutics and medical supplies as well.

“Many people are saying, ‘Won’t they need the secret recipe?’ That’s not necessarily the case,” said Tahir Amin, a founder of the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating health inequities. “There are companies that feel they can go it alone, provided they don’t have to look over their shoulder and feel like they are going to take someone’s intellectual property.”

The pharmaceutical industry counters that rolling back intellectual property protections would not help ramp up vaccine production. It says that other issues are serving as barriers to getting shots into arms around the world, including access to raw materials and on-the-ground distribution challenges.

And just as important as having the rights to make a vaccine is having the technical know-how, which would have to be supplied by vaccine developers like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — a process known as technology transfer.

on LinkedIn that his company would immediately donate more than $70 million worth of medicines to India and is also trying to fast-track the vaccine approval process in India. The company also posted on Twitter promising “the largest humanitarian relief effort in our company’s history to help the people of India.”

Moderna, which developed its vaccine with funding from American taxpayers, has already said it would not “enforce our Covid-19 related patents against those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic.” But activists have been calling not just for the waiver, but for companies to share expertise in setting up and running vaccine factories — and for Mr. Biden to lean on them to do it.

issued an open letter calling on Mr. Biden to support the proposed waiver.

On Capitol Hill, 10 senators including Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, urged Mr. Biden to “prioritize people over pharmaceutical company profits” and reverse the Trump administration’s opposition to the waiver. More than 100 House Democrats have signed a similar letter.

a handful of governments, including those of Brazil and Thailand, bypassed patents held by the developers of antiviral drugs for H.I.V./AIDS in an effort to clear the way for lower-cost versions of the treatments.

H.I.V. drugs, however, involve a much simpler manufacturing process than the coronavirus vaccines, especially those using messenger RNA technology, which has never before been used in an approved product.

In a Twitter thread, Mr. Amin offered another example: In the 1980s, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline had developed recombinant hepatitis B vaccines and held a monopoly with more than 90 patents covering manufacturing processes. The World Health Organization recommended vaccination for children, but it was expensive — $23 a dose — and most Indian families could not afford it.

The founder of Shantha Biotechnics, an Indian manufacturer, was told that “even if you can afford to buy the technology your scientists cannot understand recombinant technology in the least,” Mr. Amin wrote.

But Shantha, he added, went on “to produce India’s first home-grown recombinant product at $1 a dose.” That enabled UNICEF to run a mass vaccination campaign.

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Clubhouse App Creates Space for Open Talk in Middle East

Clubhouse policy bans users from recording conversations without participants’ consent, but the company says it temporarily records audio for investigating reports of policy violations. It has not specified who can listen to such recordings, or when.

A Clubhouse spokeswoman declined to comment.

Yet something about the spontaneous, intimate nature of the conversations — open to everyone regardless of fame or follower count — keeps lassoing people in. Away from government propaganda, Clubhouse is allowing Qataris unfettered access to their Saudi neighbors after years of bitter feuding between their countries and Egyptians access to Muslim Brotherhood defenders.

“People have been longing for this kind of communication for a long time, but I don’t think they realized it until they started using Clubhouse,” said Tharwat Abaza, 28, an Egyptian dentist who said he had listened to rooms discussing sexual harassment, feminism, the need for sex education in Arab countries and mental health. “At this point, it’s one of the freest platforms, and it’s giving us room for important discussions that we should be having without fear of witch hunting.”

There are, of course, many less charged Clubhouse rooms in the Middle East, discussing the cuteness of penguins, entrepreneurship, recipes, breakups and music. During the holy month of Ramadan, users in some countries are offering live recitations of the Quran and communal prayer rooms.

But if Clubhouse can function as group therapy, talk show, house party or seminar, it stands out for its political potential.

In Iran, despite predictions of low turnout ahead of its June 18 presidential election, election-focused Clubhouse rooms are among the most popular. Thousands participate daily at a time when in-person campaigning is limited by the pandemic.

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Black Pound Day Aims to Support U.K. Black-Owned Businesses

LONDON — For Aimée Felone, whose children’s bookstore in London stocks tales with ethnically diverse characters, the Black Lives Matter protests last summer were, in a word, overwhelming.

“We had attention like we’ve never had before,” Ms. Felone said. People across the country clamored for books about antiracism and sought out Black-owned businesses like her store, Round Table Books, as a way to help reverse years of economic racial inequality. In early June, the store’s sales went through the roof.

But pandemic restrictions had shuttered the store’s warehouse. After two weeks, the four-person team was struggling to fulfill online orders. A publishing company affiliated with the bookstore, which Ms. Felone also co-founded, sold out of every book it had published. New customers grew impatient.

“The sales were wonderful,” Ms. Felone said. The problem was “the additional stresses that I think a lot of people don’t realize they’re putting” on the small Black businesses they are trying to help.

the largest social movement in U.S. history and quickly spread across the globe, businesses are looking for ways to convert that chaotic surge of interest into regular, reliable sales.

In Britain, one effort was created by Swiss, a British rapper. He calls it Black Pound Day, and the idea is simple: Once a month, people should spend money with Black businesses.

according to a study conducted by Jamii, a company supporting Black businesses, and Translate Culture, a marketing agency.

pardner. Small groups still use it to save together outside the banking system.

Swiss, 38, whose real name is Pierre Neil, grew up in South London. His grandparents had come to Britain from Barbados and Jamaica. At 17, he found fame with So Solid Crew, a garage and hip-hop group with dozens of members. In 2001, their song “21 Seconds” topped the British charts.

But the group’s reputation was always entwined with gang culture and violence — a point Swiss pushed back against in “Broken Silence,” a song he co-wrote describing how the group felt that it had been mistreated by the media and government and unfairly blamed for its low socioeconomic status.

“I’ve been making socially conscious tunes from back when I was a teenager,” Swiss said, adding that he was inspired by the rappers Tupac and Nas.

Swiss said he had mulled over the idea for Black Pound Day for years, noting how few businesses that Black people appeared to own.

A study by the British Business Bank, a state-owned bank supporting small businesses, and the consulting firm Oliver Wyman found that entrepreneurs who come from an ethnic minority background face systemic disadvantages, and that the average annual revenue for a Black entrepreneur was 10,000 pounds less than it was for white business owners in 2019.

0.02 percent of venture capital money invested in Britain from 2009 to 2019 went to Black female founders. That’s 10 women in a decade.

Those barriers contribute to large income and wealth gaps between Black and white households in Britain. The total wealth for a median household headed by a white British person (including property, investments and pension) is £313,900 ($436,000). For a Black Caribbean household, it’s £85,900 and just £34,000 for a Black African household, the national statistics agency estimates.

Ms. Ismain, the founder of Jamii, which offers a one-stop shopping site for Black businesses, said her organization and initiatives like Black Pound Day sought to remind consumers to keep Black businesses in mind even when antiracism protests weren’t front-page news.

“When it’s not trending, you don’t always think about it, you fall into old habits, and if you can’t find alternatives to things you are already buying anyway it’s just not very sustainable,” Ms. Ismain said. “That’s the thought process behind Jamii — making it super easy to find businesses.”

For Afrocenchix, a hair care brand for natural Afro hair, Black Pound Day has been transformative. Every month on Black Pound Day, the company gets two or three times its normal sales. To promote the day, it offers customers free delivery and a packet of tea and biscuits — a.k.a. cookies in the United States — with their order.

“We got trolled a bit on the first Black Pound Day by lots of people telling us we were racist and not British,” said Rachael Corson, a co-founder of Afrocenchix. So in response, she said, she and her co-founder, Jocelyn Mate, thought: “What’s more quintessentially British than tea and biscuits?”

Since the first Black Pound Day, they have doubled their number of customers, and in 2020, Afrocenchix’s sales were five times that of the previous year.

“It made a huge difference in terms of brand awareness for us,” Ms. Corson said.

And the influx of customers and revenue should help Afrocenchix’s founders with their next goal of overcoming the venture capital fund-raising odds. They are trying to raise £2 million.

For others, the advantages of Black Pound Day have dipped with time, and they speculate that consumer interest has been spread across more Black businesses. But Natalie Manima, the founder of Bespoke Binny, a housewares brand sold online, said the attention her company had gotten since people sought out Black-owned retailers during last summer’s protests had been “life changing.”

The interest “didn’t end,” Ms. Manima said. “It’s not the same barrage that it was, but I have not ever gone back to pre-protest level of sales.”

She recalled the day in early June when she woke up to hundreds of orders for her products, which include lampshades, oven mitts and blankets. It took her a few days to track the source of the surge — a list of Black-owned businesses circulating on Instagram at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Because Britain was under lockdown, the manufacturer of her products was closed, as was her daughter’s nursery school. So Ms. Manima was packing orders herself, late at night and early in the morning, until she sold out of everything and had to pause taking orders.

But once the manufacturers reopened and her business was running smoothly again, customers have kept coming back. She has since moved into a larger office (twice) and hired a team.

“I have gone from a one-woman show to this, and I know that it’s all down to what happened in June,” she said.

That said, the experience at Round Table Books, the children’s bookstore, is a testament to how hard it can be to permanently alter people’s spending habits, even with the help of initiatives like Black Pound Day. The store has been shut all winter in line with government restrictions. It sells books online, but it’s still hard to compete against giants like the British bookseller Waterstones and Amazon.

“When you don’t have the physical bookshops open, I find that a lot of the attention goes to the bigger brands,” Ms. Felone said. But she said that the store will reopen in early May and that she still supported Black Pound Day.

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Biden May Eliminate the Carried Interest Loophole

President Biden is expected to unveil a $1.5 trillion “human infrastructure” plan next week that will focus on education, child care and paid leave for workers, among other things. It would be paid for in part by new taxes on the rich, including the end of a tax break that lawmakers have tried to eliminate for years.

The White House will propose a major change to capital gains taxes, with people earning more than $1 million per year paying the top marginal tax rate on their investment gains. Mr. Biden wants to raise that rate to 39.6 percent.

The carried interest loophole might finally disappear. Profits earned from funds owned by real estate investors and managers of private equity and venture capital firms are taxed as capital gains at about 20 percent, instead of as regular income, which is taxed at more than double that rate when state levies and other taxes are taken into account.

  • Financial industry executives and their lobbyists have long asserted that carried interest merely represents a return on investment, not income, an argument that survived challenges as recently as 2017. (Here’s Andrew back in 2007 writing about how lawmakers were trying, unsuccessfully, to end the “longstanding, but little understood, practice.”)

  • In a 2015 DealBook Op-Ed, the law professor Victor Fleischer, a top proponent for raising taxes on carried interest, estimated that such a move could raise $180 billion.

  • In a 2011 Times Op-Ed, Warren Buffett decried the treatment of carried interest, which allowed him to report a lower tax rate than his secretary. A minimum tax on millionaires was proposed shortly thereafter and dubbed the “Buffett rule.”

  • JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon has been a regular critic of carried interest, even though it benefits many of the bank’s clients. In his latest letter to shareholders, he said it could be seen as “another example of institutional bias and favoritism toward special interest groups.”

Other changes to the tax code could be in the works, including to the estate tax. Private equity executives are also worried that the Biden administration may limit the tax deductibility of corporate interest payments, which would be another hit to their business model.

they may be on board with eliminating some business tax loopholes. The White House wants that tax revenue to fund the infrastructure bill it unveiled last month. But another group of Republican senators yesterday proposed a much smaller infrastructure bill — $568 billion, versus Mr. Biden’s $2.3 trillion — that would do away with any corporate tax increases.

U.S. health officials may soon lift the pause on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. A committee of outside experts will meet today to discuss whether to resume giving the shot; they’re expected to vote in favor. But the damage may be done: The Biden administration has reportedly written off the J&J shot’s importance to U.S. vaccination efforts.

President Biden sets a new climate goal. At the first day of a climate summit that the U.S. convened, he pledged to cut America’s emissions in half by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, and offered more funding for developing countries to help them meet their targets. Swiss Re estimated that climate change could cost the global economy as much as $23 trillion in the coming decades.

Airlines see clearer skies ahead. Carriers expect travel to return almost to normal levels by the summer, with the largest airlines expected to offer as many seats this July as they did in July 2019, by one estimate. The industry plans to call back thousands of employees and hire hundreds of pilots.

Scrutiny over a fatal Tesla crash intensifies. Two senators asked regulators to create recommendations for autonomous vehicle software, following the deaths of two men in a Tesla, in which police said no one was behind the wheel. Consumer Reports said it was able to trick Tesla’s Autopilot into operating without anyone in the driver’s seat.

AT&T gains ground in the streaming race. The company added 2.7 million subscribers to HBO and HBO Max in the first quarter. Also worth noting: AT&T collects nearly three times more revenue per streaming user than Disney, and trails only Netflix by that measure.

reckoning on corporate political donations that will be a prominent feature of proxy season, with many shareholder proposals demanding greater disclosure of company spending.

“Companies are reading the writing on the wall,” Thomas DiNapoli, New York State’s comptroller and trustee for the state’s public pension fund, told DealBook. “Political and social polarization are bad for their business, and they need to decide if political donations are worth the risk.”

“Time will tell if their increased attention to these issues is lip service or if it represents a sincere change in corporate culture,” Mr. DiNapoli said. “At a minimum, investors need disclosure of this spending.” New York’s public pension fund is the third-largest in the U.S. and since 2010 it has filed more than 155 shareholder proposals on political spending, winning more than 40 adoptions or agreements, including from Bank of America, Delta Air Lines and Pepsi. Three of five resolutions it has advanced this year have already been withdrawn, with the companies agreeing to make changes without putting them to a vote. That’s a 60 percent hit rate, and companies that wouldn’t engage before are now at least responsive, a spokesperson for the fund said.

“Companies are now expected to have core values — almost personalities,” said Bruce Freed, the president of the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit that partners with shareholders on proposals. Recent agreements, like the ones brokered by Mr. DiNapoli, are a “strong indication” that corporations are feeling “real pressure,” he said. Nine of 30 companies (including those noted above) have agreed this year to provide more disclosure on political donations. Last year, eight of 40 companies facing similar proposals agreed to act instead of putting the question to shareholders in a vote. The Capitol riot “raised the stakes,” Mr. Freed said, and the pressure on companies has not relented since.


read this comprehensive account by The Times’s Tariq Panja and Rory Smith.

Chicago, Flat Rock, Mich., and Kansas City, Mo., through the first two weeks of May. The Kansas City factory makes the F-150 pickup, Ford’s most profitable model.

  • G.M. has kept its factory in Kansas City, Kan. — which makes the Chevy Malibu sedan — closed since February, and has cut production at other plants.

  • Daimler has temporarily halted production at two plants in Germany that produce lower-cost C-class vehicles.

  • Jaguar Land Rover, Britain’s biggest carmaker, will temporarily shut two of its factories there starting next week.

  • Renault scrapped production forecasts, and said it was prioritizing the manufacturing of its most profitable models.

  • The shortage is unlikely to end anytime soon, according to Intel’s C.E.O., Pat Gelsinger: “This will take a while until people can put more capacity in the ground,” he told The Wall Street Journal.


    Some of the academic research that caught our eye this week, summarized in one sentence:


    Percy Miller, better known to hip-hop fans as Master P, plans to invest $10 million in companies led by or serving people who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, DealBook is first to report. He sees ownership and equity as keys to bridging racial wealth gaps, and wants other investors to follow his lead.

    “This is all about economic empowerment,” Mr. Miller told DealBook. Early in his career, Mr. Miller opened a record store from which he launched No Limit Records, once one of the largest independent labels. More recent projects have been aimed at social entrepreneurship, like an “Uncle P” line of food products to replace Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s (both have since been renamed) that would dedicate a portion of profits to supporting Black communities.

    Mr. Miller wants to invest in an array of industries, with education, including financial literacy, a priority. “I always tell people, product outweighs talent — at the same time, education and wisdom are so important,” he said. “That’s the longevity of my success.”

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    Jack Ma Shows Why China’s Tycoons Keep Quiet

    Jack Ma, the most famous businessman China has ever produced, is avoiding the spotlight. Friends say he is painting and practicing tai chi. Sometimes, he shares drawings with Masayoshi Son, the billionaire head of the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank.

    The wider world glimpsed Mr. Ma for the first time in months last week, during a virtual board meeting of the Russian Geographical Society. As President Vladimir V. Putin and others discussed Arctic affairs and leopard conservation, Mr. Ma could be seen resting his head on one hand, looking deeply bored.

    For Mr. Ma — the charismatic entrepreneur who first showed, two decades ago, how China would shake the world in the internet age; whose face adorns shelves of admiring business books; who never met a crowd he couldn’t razzle-dazzle — it is a stark change of pace.

    Beijing’s biggest targets yet, as officials start regulating the country’s powerful internet industry like never before.

    snatched from a luxury Hong Kong hotel in 2017. Ye Jianming, an oil tycoon who sought connections in Washington, was detained, as was Wu Xiaohui, whose insurance company bought the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. Mr. Wu later went to prison. Lai Xiaomin, the former chairman of a financial firm, was executed this year.

    “The general iron rule is that there should be no individual centers of power outside of the party,” said Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute and author of “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers.”

    Beijing’s clampdown on tech is already rippling through boardrooms beyond Alibaba’s.

    Ant Group’s chief executive, Simon Hu, resigned in March. A few days later, Colin Huang stepped down as chairman of Pinduoduo, the mobile bazaar he founded and took public within a few short years. Pinduoduo announced his resignation the same day it said it had attracted 788 million shoppers over the previous 12 months — a bigger number than Alibaba.

    proposed tougher rules for internet companies — or, as an official newspaper put it, “innovative methods of regulation and governance.”

    China’s antitrust authority summoned 34 top internet companies to talk about new fair-competition rules. Within hours, they were discussing business changes and publicly pledging to stay in line.

    “These new regulations are going to require internet platforms to look at how they innovate going forward, and the result is potentially less innovation,” said Gordon Orr, a nonexecutive board member at Meituan, the Chinese food delivery giant.

    Even so, Alibaba and other internet titans have a status in China that could protect them from the most heavy-handed treatment. Officials have praised the titans’ economic contributions even as they tighten supervision. Mr. Xi wants China’s economy to be driven more by its own innovations than by those of fickle foreign powers.

    That means it might be too soon to declare Jack Ma down for the count.

    “His company is much more important to the success and functioning of the Chinese economy than any of the other entrepreneurs’,” Mr. McGregor said. “The government wants to continue to reap the benefits of his company — but on their terms. The government isn’t nationalizing Alibaba. It isn’t confiscating its assets. It’s simply narrowing the field in which it operates.”

    Alibaba declined to comment.

    Mr. Ma is no neophyte at dealing with the authorities in China.

    He worked briefly and unhappily at a government-run advertising agency before founding Alibaba in 1999. At the time, China was still getting used to the idea of powerful private entrepreneurs, and Mr. Ma proved adept at charming government officials.

    in the 2000s. “What a world-class company needs most is a soul, a commander, a world-class businessman. Jack Ma, I believe, meets this standard.”

    Mr. Ma saw early on what success might bring with it in China, said Porter Erisman, an early Alibaba executive.

    “There was only one person in the company who brought to our attention that one day we might face issues of being so big that we would come under pressure for having too much market power,” Mr. Erisman said. “And that was Jack.”

    one of Alibaba’s biggest investors, Yahoo. Mr. Ma said the move had been necessary under new Chinese regulations. Alipay later became Ant Group.

    “The Alipay transfer emboldened him,” said Duncan Clark, who has known Mr. Ma since 1999 and is chairman of BDA China, a consulting firm. “He kind of got away with it.”

    work more closely with the state.

    When Mr. Ma stepped down as Alibaba’s chairman in 2019, a commentary in the official Communist Party newspaper declared: “There is no so-called Jack Ma era — only Jack Ma as part of this era.”

    China’s leaders need the private sector to help sustain economic growth. But they also do not want entrepreneurs to undermine the party’s dominance across society.

    Last October, as Ant was preparing to go public, Mr. Ma spoke at a Shanghai conference and criticized China’s financial regulators. He had long seen Ant as a vehicle for disrupting the country’s big state-run banks. But there could scarcely have been a less opportune moment to press the point. Officials halted Ant’s share listing soon after.

    In China, “it’s hard to say the emperor has no clothes these days,” said Kellee S. Tsai, a political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

    Mr. Ma has largely vanished from sight within his companies, too. In January, he popped up in an internal chat group to answer a business question, according to a person who saw the message but was not authorized to speak publicly. Employees later shared Mr. Ma’s message to reassure nervous colleagues.

    estimated that Mr. Ma was not, for the first time in three years, one of China’s three richest people. The country’s new No. 1 was Zhong Shanshan, the low-key head of both a bottled-water giant and a pharmaceutical business.

    Chinese news reports about his sudden wealth had to explain to readers how to pronounce the obscure Chinese character in his name.

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