Alibaba Prepares for Life After Jack Ma

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Alibaba’s chairman and founder is taking a step back, so what comes next for the tech giant?

Jack Ma certainly knows how to make an exit. When the former English teacher and founder of Alibaba — one of China’s largest tech companies — first announced his retirement, almost offhandedly, in a Sept. 7 interview with The New York Times, he left local Chinese media scrambling to confirm the news. It wasn’t until days later, on Sept. 10 — a date notable for being both Teacher’s Day and Ma’s own 54th birthday — that he finally confirmed his exit in an open letter titled “Happy Teacher’s Day!”

As outlined in his letter, the plan seems to be for Ma to step down from his position as chairman of the board one year from now, on Sept. 10, 2019. Replacing him at Alibaba is his hand-picked successor: CEO Daniel Zhang. Market reaction to the news was swift, but surprisingly measured. After a quick dip, the company’s stock price appears to have stabilized.

Yet while the market appears cautiously optimistic about the post-Ma era at Alibaba, investors would be forgiven for harboring doubts about the company’s future. After all, the Chinese mainland’s market economy is still quite young, and Alibaba will be one of the first of its major founder-run businesses to attempt this kind of leadership change.

Founders occupy a crucial and irreplaceable position in a company. Chinese businessmen like Jack Ma and JD.com’s Richard Liu are often treated as avatars for their company’s culture. A successful transition requires companies to keep threading the needle: They must simultaneously preserve and pass on this culture — which is what made them successful in the first place — while also ensuring their leadership ranks are filled based not on loyalty, connections, or tenure, but on who is most qualified for the job and who is best prepared to lead the company in the future. Read the full article here.

 

– This is original content by Sixth Tone and has been republished with permission.

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