Daniel Zhang, in Berlin, says of Alibaba: 'We are positioning ourselves as a data company. We have half a billion customers with us with shopping intentions and a method to pay. We know who they are, what they want, what they hate' © Jan Zappner/FT
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Welcome to the FT Business school newsletter, a weekly serving of management wisdom, reading recommendations and business-related challenges. FT subscribers can sign up here to receive the newsletter by email every Monday. If you have any feedback about FT Business school, please email bschool@ft.com.

Andrew Hill's challenge

Jack Ma is the man one associates with the rise of Alibaba, but the chief executive of the Chinese online platform is a down-to-earth accountant called Daniel Zhang. He tells my colleague John Thornhill, in this week's Monday Interview that while Mr Ma is "a guy with many ideas …I’m the guy who always wants to put my foot on the ground".

In fact, Mr Zhang is not short of ideas himself. He was the developer of the shopping frenzy known as Singles Day, a 24-hour sale that outdoes even Black Friday in the US. Now he and colleagues are in search of new ways to exploit the data on its half a billion customers and turn the 85 per cent of China's retail market that is still offline into new digital consumers. So for this week's challenge please come up with at least one new idea that will help Alibaba move more customers online. Keep it as concise, and as original, as you can, and send your ideas to bschool@ft.com.

For further reading this week, I highly recommend Patrick Radden Keefe's long analysis of corporate raider and activist Carl Icahn's ill-starred relationship with Donald Trump and his administration in the New Yorker. He puts Icahn's failure to cement a deal to advise the president down to the activist's misunderstanding about the "power of transactional politics in Washington". "Trump may want to govern like a businessman," he writes. "But Washington is a club like any other, with some codes and protocols that even the brashest arrivistes cannot ignore." 

Bracken Bower Prize

Are you under 35 with an idea for a book that tackles emerging business themes? Submit a proposal for The Bracken Bower Prize by September 30.

For tips about how to come up with the idea and how to structure your proposal, listen to this podcast, where Andrew Hill discusses how to write a book proposal with agent Ella Diamond Kahn and publisher Joel Rickett.

In the meantime, find out which titles have made it to the longlist for the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2017.

Professor's picks

Every week a business school professor or academic recommends useful FT articles.

Jean-Philippe Bonardi, dean of HEC Lausanne, selects:

John Zimmer, president of Lyft, on the rivalry with Uber This is a timely reminder that companies can’t afford to ignore non-market factors, such as consumer boycotts, which have affected Uber. What emerges very clearly is that the key difference between Lyft and Uber is how they approach stakeholder relations.

In contrast to Uber’s aggression, Lyft has adopted a more subtle approach based on accumulating goodwill with its employees, external partners and customers. This takes more time to develop, but is also likely to pay-off for Lyft in the long run. A long-term approach should create a more sustainable position for Lyft. This is the type of idea that we try to teach to our business students.

Jonathan Moules' business school news

Data analysis is a hot topic in large part because of what surprising insights can be unearthed from within statistical sets. The FT has illustrated this recently with several news items drawn from its own bespoke business school surveys.

Received wisdom says that the UK’s vote to leave the EU will undermine London’s position as a global financial centre and the banking capital of Europe. But, according to the 2017 Financial Times ranking of masters in finance, the UK held its position as the main employer of overseas masters in finance graduates with Ireland, France and Germany all failing to capitalise on Brexit uncertainty.

The only thing more divisive than the UK’s vote to leave the EU is whether or not it is worth the expense and the effort of completing an MBA, it seems, according to the debate on the FT website around our study into perceived skills gaps among companies hiring business school graduates.

Our research found that one in three of the employers we surveyed said they struggled to find business school graduates with the right skills. Hopefully the detailed findings, available in the FT’s analysis piece, will help MBA programme directors better focus their teaching content.

If you are an academic and want to know how to teach Brexit to your students, a guest post by Alberto Alemanno, professor of EU law and policy at HEC Paris, gives some advice.

Ask the academics

Got a question for leading business school experts? Send it to bschool@ft.com and we will publish the best replies in future newsletters.

Test your knowledge

How good is your grasp of the news? Test your reading of last week's top stories with the FirstFT quiz.

Compiled by Wai Kwen Chan — bschool@ft.com

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