By Elton Gomes
After deciding to step down from the post of executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, Jack Ma will hand over the reins to Daniel Zhang, who became chief executive officer three years ago. Zhang, a 46-year-old certified accountant, has been the brains behind a mandate to change old-school commerce using technology that’s known as “new retail.”
In letter addressed to all staff members, Ma stated that Zhang will be promoted to the post of executive chairman on September 10, 2019, while Ma himself will continue to remain a director on Alibaba’s board and a permanent member of the Alibaba Partnership.
Ma further said that he will continue as Alibaba’s executive chairman during the year-long period to ensure a “smooth and successful” transition, and will stay on as a director in Alibaba until a shareholders’ meeting is held in 2020.
“This transition demonstrates that Alibaba has stepped into the next level of corporate governance from a company that relies on individuals, to one built on systems of organisational excellence and a culture of consistent talent development,” Ma wrote in his letter, PTI reported.
From “tractor” to “Boeing 747”
Chinese media routinely refers to Zhang as the man who helped transform Ma’s little “tractor” into a “Boeing 747”, and analysts estimate that Ma could not have found a better replacement. Hailing from Shanghai, Zhang studied finance at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. Before joining Alibaba in 2007, he was a senior manager at global auditor Price Waterhouse Coopers and chief financial officer of a Chinese online games company. He then joined Alibaba as the chief financial officer of its main online marketplace named Taobao. Zhang has been credited with developing Alibaba’s Tmall business-to-consumer platform into one the firm’s most successful arms.
A financial mind
Zhang has been known to be more of a financial mind than a technology visionary. The veteran CFO sports a less flamboyant style as compared to his charismatic boss, who’s known for his words of wisdom and for his meetings with heads of states and celebrities.
After joining Alibaba in 2007, Zhang gradually rose through the ranks. He is best known for being the brainchild of Singles Day, an Alibaba innovation that transformed November 11 into the biggest shopping bonanza on the planet. In 2017, shoppers spent more than $25billion across all Alibaba platforms on the day. Zhang raced around logistics units and other parts of the Singles Day machine, cheering on workers and ensuring no flaws during the day. More recently, Zhang has been credited with driving the partnership with Starbucks to deliver coffee, thus being a step ahead of rival Tencent.
“Daniel is a proven international business leader,” says Ma
After Alibaba announced in 2015 that Zhang would become the firm’s chief executive, Ma said in a statement, “Daniel [Zhang] is a proven international business leader and innovator with a strong track record of delivering results.” Ma added, “He has the confidence of our entire management team, and there is no better person to lead Alibaba Group as we embark on the next stage of our growth on top of the strong foundation that Jonathan helped build,” the Star reported.
Alibaba has now set its sights on food delivery. The company recently acquired food delivery services Ele.me and has plans to merge it with other recommendations. Speaking about the importance of brick and mortar stores at a conference in Singapore, Zhang said, “We strongly believe that bricks-and-mortar stores can create huge value, but their model needs to be upgraded, and their operations need to be digitised,” according to the Star.
Zhang undoubtedly has some huge shoes to fill. Other than maintaining Alibaba’s legacy, Zhang will have to deal with intense competition from rival Tencent. Additionally, Washington and Beijing’s trade dispute is threatening Alibaba’s model, and Zhang will have to manoeuvre through President Trump’s protectionist policies.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius