Challenges for Alibaba as Ma posts exit date

Top News | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 11 Sep 2018

Alibaba is ready to take on global challenges head-on despite stiffening competition as chief executive Daniel Zhang takes over from co-founder Jack Ma Yun, who will step down from the mainland's e-commerce giant to focus on philanthropic work.

Ma's departure has already drawn comparisons to the retirement of late Apple founder Steve Jobs and analysts are speculating how Alibaba would carry on its charismatic co-founder's vision amid rising competition.

But like Apple's transition to current boss Tim Cook, Zhang is less magnetic than his predecessor but has proved an able steward since effectively taking the operational reins years ago, analysts said.

"Day-to-day operations-wise Alibaba will not be affected that much. But since he's [Ma] the face of the company, people may lose a little bit of faith," said Jackson Wong, associate director with Huarong Securities in Hong Kong.

"But where Jobs died, Ma is expected to stay on in an advisory role, so there shouldn't be too much impact."

Ma - who turned 54 on Monday - said he will serve as executive chairman until his 55th birthday before passing the torch to Zhang.

"I will work closely with Daniel to ensure a smooth and successful transition," Ma said.

Ma, who has expressed a desire to follow in the philanthropic footsteps of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, said he will remain on Alibaba's board until 2020.

"The one thing I can promise everyone is this: Alibaba was never about Jack Ma, but Jack Ma will forever belong to Alibaba," he said.

A former English teacher, Ma started Alibaba in 1999 in his apartment in the city of Hangzhou - where its headquarters remain - building an e-commerce giant and becoming one of the world's richest men and most recognizable figures in China.

Ma is worth US$40 billion (HK$312 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, and Alibaba, which has New York-listed shares, was valued at US$420.8 billion as of Friday.

Alibaba reassured investors, with Ma saying he had "full confidence" that a leadership team in place for years will "win support from customers, employees and shareholders."

Jeffrey Towson, an equity investor and Peking University business professor, said Ma was "never a tech guy" anyway and that his team-building skills leave Alibaba in excellent shape.

"He's always been building team and culture, never technology, so he's made himself unnecessary," Towson said. "Is the internal culture already so ingrained that it's an Alibaba culture, not a Jack Ma culture? I think that's become true."

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