Alibaba set for ‘big challenge’ as flamboyant chairman Ma departs

SHANGHAI: Alibaba Group Jack Ma will step down from the Chinese firm on Tuesday (Sep 10), leaving his handpicked successor a daunting task of steering the US$460 billion juggernaut at a time when the market for its core e-commerce business has slowed sharply.

As Ma, who turns 55 on Tuesday, holds centerstage at his farewell party in the 80,000-capacity Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center stadium to the accompaniment of music and celebrity performances, attendees will be hoping to get clues on how Alibaba will be run under his heir Daniel Zhang.

An accountant by trade, soft-spoken Alibaba CEO Zhang marks a stark contrast to Ma whose style and charismatic leadership made him the most recognised Chinese entrepreneur since the former English teacher founded the company 20 years ago in a small shared apartment in Hangzhou city in eastern China.

“He has the logic and critical thinking skills of a super computer, a commitment to his vision, the courage to wholeheartedly dare to take on innovative business models and industries of the future,” Ma said of Zhang in 2018 in a message announcing his appointment.

One of Zhang’s major challenges will be finding new areas of growth as China’s e-commerce sector matures, analysts said.

Last week, Alibaba announced investments of US$2.7 billion in luxury goods retail platform Kaola and a music streaming firm in moves that partly demonstrated its flexibility in adopting new strategies.

“If Alibaba wants to find new innovations or trends this is going to be more difficult than before,” said Liu Yiming, an analyst at the research division of 36kr, a Chinese tech publishing group.

“For Daniel Zhang, this will be a big .”

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