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Alibaba names new chairman and CEO in major shakeup

Stringer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Alibaba is replacing Daniel Zhang as chairman and CEO as the Chinese tech giant undergoes the biggest shakeup in its history.

Joseph Tsai, executive vice chairman and a co-founder of Alibaba (BABA), will succeed Zhang as chairman, the company said Tuesday. Eddie Wu, chairman of e-commerce unit Taobao and Tmall Group, will succeed Zhang as chief executive officer.

Both appointments will take effect in September, and Zhang will continue to serve as the chairman and CEO of Alibaba’s cloud unit.

This is the second time Alibaba has undergone a major change in executive leadership in a few years after co-founder Jack Ma stepped away in 2019. And it comes just months after the company announced its biggest restructuring in 24 years.

The company said in March that it was splitting into six separate units, including cloud, e-commerce, logistics, media and entertainment. Each unit is now overseen by its own CEO and board directors, and most of them can pursue separate listings or fundraisings.

“This is the right time for me to make a transition, given the importance of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence Group as it progresses towards a full spin-off,” Zhang said in the announcement. He has been Alibaba CEO since 2015.

He added that the emergence of generative AI has opened up “exciting new opportunities” for the company’s cloud business.

Wu, also a co-founder of Alibaba, served as the technology director at the company’s inception in 1999.

“While our current transformation brings in a new corporate organizational and governance structure, Alibaba’s mission remains unchanged,” he said.

Zhang was appointed by Alibaba as CEO in May 2015, eight years after he joined the company. In 2019, he replaced Jack Ma as the executive chairman, as Ma retired on his birthday and the 20th anniversary of the company as he had promised.

Alibaba is China’s largest e-commerce company, boasting more than 900 million active users annually on its Taobao and Tmall platforms. It also operates the country’s biggest cloud computing and digital payment platforms.

But the company, along with its co-founder Ma, has been at the center of a sweeping crackdown by Beijing in recent years.

After Ma criticized Chinese financial regulators in a public speech in late 2020, Beijing called off the blockbuster IPO of Ant Group, the affiliate of Alibaba that owns Alipay, at the last minute. The cancellation marked the start of a regulatory onslaught against the country’s internet industry and the private sector, during which Beijing imposed a record fine of $2.8 billion on Alibaba Group for violating antitrust rules.

Since then, Ma had largely disappeared from public view and retreated further from his companies. He has reportedly spent more time overseas, including in Hong Kong and Japan, home to his friend and Alibaba investor, SoftBank CEO Masa Son.

But in March, he made a surprising public appearance in mainland China, days before Alibaba announced its major restructuring plan. His return was a symbolic move and probably a “planned media event” by Beijing intended to appease private sector fears, according to analysts.

Since then, Ma has shown up in public more frequently, with a more visible focus on researching and teaching. In April, the University of Hong Kong announced that Ma would join its business school for the next three years.

Last week, Ma gave his first lecture as a visiting professor to the University of Tokyo, according to a statement from the university.

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