Alibaba steps into post-Jack Ma Yun era

By Xie Jun Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/9 22:43:40

Nation’s opening-up condition for emergence of Alibaba-likes

Jack Ma Yun (left), founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, is honored as a "meritorious resident of Hangzhou" by the city government on Saturday. Photo: VCG

Jack Ma Yun, founder and the heart and soul of China's largest online retailer Alibaba, is scheduled to step down from his position as the company's executive chairman on Tuesday. 

Despite rising concerns about the Chinese internet giant's business potential in the post-Ma period, Chinese experts told the Global Times on Monday they believed in Alibaba's preponderance over domestic competitors. 

They also believed more Alibabas and more Jack Ma Yuns will emerge in China thanks to the country's opening-up and rising innovation. 

Ma will retire on the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the country's top e-commerce conglomerate as well as his 55th birthday, and hand over his position to Alibaba CEO Zhang Yong. 

In a speech Ma made in August, he said that stepping down from the position did not mean full retirement or that he will stop entrepreneurship, according to media reports. 

Born in Hangzhou, capital of East China's Zhejiang Province, the business tycoon started up Alibaba in September 1999 and gradually molded it into China's largest and most valuable internet company specializing in a variety of areas including e-commerce, online finance, retail and entertainment. 

Alibaba will also reveal "a new set of company values" on Tuesday, according to a statement an Alibaba public relations representative sent to the Global Times on Monday.

Ma Yun's position as Alibaba's spiritual leader would not change even after Tuesday, Liu Xingliang, director of the Beijing-based Data Center of China Internet, told the Global Times on Monday. 

"His influence will remain, and he will still steer Alibaba in the company's general strategy and business direction."

Alibaba building in Shanghai Photo: VCG

Hero made by the times 

Chinese experts said Alibaba's successes resulted from a combination of factors including Ma's business talent, development of the internet and, particularly, China's opening-up policies. 

"Companies like Alibaba can pop up only under the condition of opening-up," Ye Hang, an economics professor at the College of Economics of Zhejiang University, told the Global Times on Monday. 

"How can such private businesses start and grow, even beyond the border, in a planned economy?"

Zhang Yi, CEO of Shenzhen-based iiMedia Research, said that 1999 was the start of a strong, irreversible internet trend in China, with many talented Chinese people returning from the West to start internet entrepreneurship on the Chinese mainland. This societal change gave birth to e-commerce giants like Alibaba and Tencent, they noted. 

"The trend of the internet around 1999 is just like the trend of 5G today," Zhang told the Global Times on Monday.  

Zhang noted that after the 1998 global financial crisis, Chinese manufacturing started to slide and many people shifted to the internet industry accordingly. 

"Ma is also a hero produced by the times," he said. 

Rebutting concerns 

Along with the changing of the guard for the $460 billion internet company, doubts are also rising about Alibaba's future business prospects during the US-launched trade war and whether it can maintain its predominance in the profit-generating e-commerce sectors. 

An article published Monday on a technology column hosted by Tencent's domestic news portal wondered whether Alibaba's traditional e-commerce platforms can withstand attacks from rising competitors like social e-commerce platform and,  Alibaba's two major e-commerce platforms, are still the major sources of revenue, an Alibaba employee told the Global Times on Monday on condition of anonymity. 

However, Zhang insisted that Alibaba's comprehensive ecosystem, covering multiple fields, could help maintain its predominant position in e-commerce. 

"Alibaba has invested in a number of online service providers like [online food delivery service] Although those platforms have not profited yet, their large volume of active users will help direct net flow to the e-commerce platforms and support their advertising and other income," he said.  

Competitors like might distract some users from Alibaba's e-commerce sector, "but won't threaten its predominance," Zhang said. 

The China-US trade war is also a concern. One Shanghai stock investor surnamed Dai told the Global Times that she had sold all her Alibaba stock at the end of last year fearing the trade war's impact on the e-commerce giant. 

But the US-initiated war will benefit Alibaba by accelerating China's technological development and opening-up, Zhang believed. 

"China still has huge room for internet-related innovation and the country's population bonus has yet to be realized," Zhang said. "I believe new Alibabas will emerge in China in such an environment."

On Tuesday the Zhejiang Province-based company will update its old values of 2004, which consisted of six-point slogans: "customers first, teamwork, embracing changes, honesty, passion and professionalism." 

Tech expert Liu Dingding said the new values might incorporate openness and leading changes, but they would still reflect Ma Yun's thoughts on building a business ecosystem and providing online platforms for services providers.  

In the quarter ended June 30, Alibaba earned a revenue of $16,741 million, up 42 percent year-on-year. The company's income from operations amounted to $3,551 million, an increase of 204 percent year-on-year.

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