Ant, an affiliate of Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group had emerged over the last decade as the world’s largest fintech company, reshaping the lives of millions of people in China. However, recently, Ant’s debut IPO was blocked by the Shanghai Stock Exchange from listing in its STAR BOARD and the Hong Kong IPO was suspended as well.

At $34 billion Ant’s IPO was going to be the largest, pushing Ant’s valuation past $310 billion, having had order bookings to the tune of $3 trillion. Ant’s halted IPO, like a dead albatross around Alibaba’s neck, pushed its stock down 8.13%, wiping off $3B from Jack Ma’s fortune. So what went wrong !?!

The anatomy of the disaster lay in Jack Ma’s controversial speech two weeks back in a high profile financial forum in Shanghai where Ma was speaking about China’s banking system and referred to the same as “pawn shops”.

The reaction was swift as Ma was summoned by Beijing’s top financial regulators and given a thorough dressing down. Chinese regulators had long been wary of the growing influence of companies like Ant which inspite of not being banks, served as one and had asked for stricter capital requirements and regulations for Ant Group’s customer credit business. Fair enough !

Readers may contend : Ma did the right thing, speaking truth to power. It’s China’s totalitarian regime which punishes Freedom of Expression which is to blame. All soo cute !

My counter response would be who ultimately lost out with the cancellation of Ant’s IPO – early stage investors and employees and with it, a dozen other people slated to become billionaires.

Leadership at its core is protecting those under your wings and it’s the leader’s duty to fine tune the spoken and written word to suit the audience as per time and place. Such candor is counterproductive and akin to committing hara-kiri – except some lone cheerleaders from the gallery and odd media houses clapping, there can be very little takers.

So (future) leaders, don’t be rash, don’t speak your mind if the cost outstrips the benefits. Rather hold back to get the best happen for your people, allow your company to be in a position of invincibility, to become “too big to fail” before going on such misadventures (personally won’t ever advise /do the same as well unless convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the reaction won’t be negative and vengeful) – of shooting from your mouth ! Speaking truth to power is often laced with blood: so be aware. Till such time, some measured speech is most beneficial and welcome.

Ma’s is a costly mistake. Let’s learn from it. Not to repeat in our own lives and career. Period.

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