Published: Tue, September 11, 2018
Markets | By Erika Turner

Alibaba CEO Zhang to succeed Jack Ma as chairman

Alibaba CEO Zhang to succeed Jack Ma as chairman

One of China's biggest tech titans is stepping down. The Hurun Report, which follows China's wealthy, estimates his net worth at 37 billion USA dollars (£28.65 billion). To ensure a "smooth and successful transition", Ma added that he will remain in his current role until September 10, 2019 and stay on the Alibaba board of directors until the 2020 annual shareholder meetings are concluded.

Jack Ma, known for his oratorical skills, ended his letter with, "The one thing I can promise everyone is this: Alibaba was never about Jack Ma, but Jack Ma will forever belong to Alibaba".

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Jack Ma says he wants to return to education because this is what he "loves to do".

Zhang, a former accountant, has worked at Alibaba Group for 11 years and is credited with establishing the e-commerce giant's Singles' Day event and for being one of the key driver's behind Alibaba's new retail strategy.

Ma, whose Chinese name is Ma Yun, has often described himself as something on an accidental entrepreneur, giving up his university teaching for the hustle of trade after discovering the internet. An investment from Japan's SoftBank Group Corp. helped the company expand to allow consumers in China buy online and fueled its rise. To realize the dream behind this mission requires participation by a lot more people than just Jack Ma and persistent effort by generations of Aliren.

Ma, known in Chinese as Ma Yun, appears regularly on television. At an annual Alibaba employee festival in Hanzhou, he has sung pop songs in costumes that have included blond wigs and leather jackets.

Ma also became one of the best-known Chinese businesspeople overseas.

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But it has been largely under the more reserved Zhang's stewardship that Alibaba's two main e-commerce platforms, Taobao and Tmall, have turned into richly profitable cash cows and other arms such as digital payments have flourished, said Wong of Huarong Securities.

Mr Zhang, who joined Alibaba in 2007, sees Alibaba as an integrated ecosystem that lures consumers with movies, live-streamed sports, fast food deliveries and news.

A global trade war is also hampering Alibaba's ambitions for worldwide expansion, including into the United States.

The company, which reported a revenue of $39.9 billion for the fiscal 2017-18, has been successful not because of its scale but its team, the business magnate said. The CEO has proven a capable hand and Alibaba's stock has surged 87 percent over his tenure and now has a market value of about $420 billion, bigger than arch-foe and WeChat operator Tencent Holdings Ltd.

In 2011, Alibaba faced complaints it had transferred control over Alipay to a company controlled by Ma without immediately informing shareholders including Yahoo and Softback.

Alibaba said the move was required to comply with Chinese regulations, but some financial analysts said the company was paid too little for a valuable asset.

Mr. Zhang will be promoted to the executive chairman on September 10, 2019, while Mr. Ma remains a director on Alibaba's board and a permanent member of the Alibaba Partnership, according to a letter written by Ma to all staff including to the Post. The South China Morning Post has not yet responded to request for comment.

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