Alibaba in Transition: Will the Magic Continue?

“No company can rely solely on its founders” (Jack Ma)

“Our goal is that in five years we will serve more than one billion customers globally.” (Daniel Zhang)

As transitions go, the ascent of Daniel Zhang and the bowing out of Jack Ma at Alibaba was seamless. One year before Alibaba’s 20th anniversary on September 10, 2019, Jack Ma announced his retirement as Executive Chair of the world’s most valuable e-commerce company.

Founder Jack Ma’s story is the stuff of legend, and as such it will most likely be embellished and repeated for a long time to come.

Start with a skinny teacher of English who pedaled his bicycle through the rain to have a chance to chat with tourists to improve his English, add to that a guy who applied to, and was rejected by Harvard University 10 times, drop in the fact that he was also rejected by Kentucky Fried Chicken when they came to China, and then finish by retelling the part where the same guy had a vision of the Internet in China and subsequently became the richest man in China. Considering all of this, Jack Ma, or Ma Yun, is indeed a hard act to follow.

Daniel Zhang, by all accounts, seems to be up to the job.

A graduate of the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Daniel Zhang joined Alibaba in 2007 at Taobao, the world’s biggest e-commerce website. Mr. Zhang’s background in finance might make him seem a bit lackluster compared to Alibaba’s founder, but clearly his is not without vision and imagination. On Zhang’s watch Single’s Day or Double 11, the wildly-successful online shopping spree was launched in 2009 on the T-Mall platform. Fast-forward to 2018 where Single’s Day saw sales reached $30.8 billion over a 24-hour period, easily eclipsing the Black Friday shopping day in the west.

The actual transition at Alibaba was celebrated with a huge party. Two short speeches were presented: one by Jack Ma, and one by the incoming Executive Chair, Daniel Zhang.

In his short speech Zhang outlined the vision for the future of Alibaba. Key points included:

  • To serve more than one billion customers worldwide in 5 years
  • To have the capability to handle 10 trillion RMB in transactions
  • To continue to create value for society
  • To solve society’s problems
  • To be a company that shoulders social responsibility

And now, with Jack Ma out of the picture it is up to Daniel Zhang and his team to make these goals and this vision for Alibaba’s future a reality. Will they succeed? Please let us know what you think about this.