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4 Thursday, September 12, 2019 10:35

Alibaba set for 'big challenge' as flamboyant chairman Ma departs


Starting from a shared apartment in Hangzhou city in eastern China 20 years ago, former teacher Jack Ma grew Alibaba into Asias biggest listed company [File: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg] Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma steps down from the Chinese firm on Tuesday, leaving his handpicked successor a daunting task of steering the $460bn juggernaut at a time when the market for its core e-commerce business has slowed rapidly.

As Ma, who turns 55 on Tuesday, holds centre stage 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 flamboyant 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 supercomputer, 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 Zhangs major challenges will be finding new areas of growth as Chinas e-commerce sector matures, analysts said.

Last week, Alibaba announced investments of $2.7bn 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 challenge.Chinas online retail sales grew just 17.8 percent in the first half of 2019, almost halving from the 32.4 percent growth of the prior year, according to the national statistics office.Mas legacyThe resignation plan announced by Ma last year was perceived as unusual as it is rare for a founder of such a big and transformative tech firm to retire this early.

Under Mas leadership, Alibaba has grown to become Asias most valuable listed company, with a current market capitalisation of $460bn. It employs over 100,000 people and has expanded into financial services, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.When Ma makes his farewell speech, investors would like to hear how he will be involved in management and whether he will continue to steer the companys broad strategy.

Ma has said that he will continue to mentor management.After his resignation, Ma, Chinas richest man with a net worth of $38.4bn, according to Forbes, is set to spend more time on philanthropy and education. Yet he will remain a member of Alibabas partnership, a corporate governing group of 38 individuals that is separate from the board of directors.

.While the story of Mas success has.....


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