Alibaba's Ma to resign as CEO

Updated: 2013-01-16 07:27

By He Wei in Shanghai and Chen Limin in Beijing (China Daily)

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 Alibaba's Ma to resign as CEO

Jack Ma speaks at a global e-commerce conference in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. Ma, chairman and CEO of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, China's biggest e-commerce company, said he will leave the CEO post in May. Huang Zongzhi / Xinhua

Company founder says he wants to pass the baton to younger generation

Jack Ma, chairman and chief executive officer of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, said on Tuesday he will step down from the CEO post in May and stay on as chairman.

"I will resign as the chief executive officer on May 10, 2013, and will be fully devoted to the chairman job," the 48-year-old Internet veteran said in an e-mail sent to employees.

Ma said that as chairman he will focus on Alibaba's corporate strategy and culture.

The move comes a day after the company dismissed rumors about Ma's possible retirement in 2013.

The announcement also marks another major reshuffle for Alibaba, following a recent restructuring to stay agile in the mobile Internet age.

Ma said he was already "old" in the context of Web companies, which require energy and creativity. He added that he hopes that a younger generation will inherit the management of the Alibaba empire, which he said he wants to last 102 years.

He said the decision was not an easy one to take, as founders quitting their jobs usually send out misleading signals about the companies.

But he added that he believes that it is vital to pass on the baton to people born in the 1970s and the 1980s, given that Alibaba deserves to thrive in a new environment.

In the e-mail, he also expressed optimism about finding the ideal candidate for the CEO position before May 10.

The date is known as Alibaba Day, and this year employees will celebrate the 10th anniversary of Taobao, the company's popular customer-to-customer business arm.

Recently, the country's biggest e-commerce company restructured its seven business groups, turning them into 25 business units in the second restructuring in six months.

On the financial front, it completed an initial repurchase - worth $7.6 billion - of its own shares from Yahoo Inc, which had once held the largest number of Alibaba's shares, paving the way for a privatization.

The company achieved yet another milestone last year after two of its major units - Taobao and its business-to-customer arm Tmall - reached 1 trillion yuan ($160 billion) in combined sales at the end of November.

The succession issue has recently dogged Ma, whose charismatic personality forged a unique corporate culture thought to be difficult to replicate.

The decision did not come as a surprise to his colleagues.

While still involved in the most important decisions related to the company's development, Ma "has been gradually stepping back from daily management tasks", Zeng Ming, Alibaba's chief strategy officer, told China Daily in August.

Ma - who has said that in 10 years he hopes to spend half of his time basking in the sun and the other half thinking about how to spend his money - has been pushing the succession project forward by preparing future leaders, Zeng said.

In June, Ma set up a group of about 30 people who are possible future leaders, David Chang, vice-president of Alibaba's human resources department, said in an interview with China Daily.

Ma taught the group himself, Chang said, talking about real-life business projects, giving lectures and recommending books.

Another example is a 200-person job rotation project across the company's different business sectors. The project targets executives at the senior director-level and above.

"I think this is the perfect time to try to find a new CEO, because the company has just been through an organizational restructuring so the CEO's role in the short run will be limited," said Li Zhi, principal analyst at IT consultancy Analysys International.

In the long run, Ma's departure is unlikely to trigger any changes in corporate culture, as long as he remains on the board, Li added.

"The newly appointed chief should be someone who fits into the Alibaba culture, rather than someone who will try to change it dramatically," Li said.

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(China Daily 01/16/2013 page13)