Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group has named a new chairman and CEO in a surprise management shakeup announced at a time of slowing growth and cutthroat competition.
According to company statements and stock exchange filings, long-time Alibaba veteran Daniel Zhang will be stepping down as the group’s chairman and CEO in September, and dedicating his time to leading the group’s cloud computing arm. Executive vice chairman and billionaire Joseph Tsai is named as Alibaba’s new chairman of the board. Eddie Wu, now chairman of the core Taobao and Tmall commerce divisions, will take over the CEO role.
The shock departure of Zhang, who has been leading the e-commerce titan for eight years, comes as Alibaba faces a myriad of challenges. Sales growth has slowed to single digits amid China’s wobbling economic recovery after most Covid-related restrictions were lifted earlier this year. Competitors including billionaire Colin Zheng Huang’s Pinduoduo have been making aggressive inroads using a low-cost strategy to attract budget shoppers.
Hangzhou-headquartered Alibaba has responded in part with a series of organizational revamps. In March, the tech giant announced plans to split itself into six smaller units and allow each to seek independent financing, including initial public offerings. The overhaul could in theory allow faster responses to market opportunities, as each unit can now make its own decisions. It is also widely regarded as a step to appease anti-monopoly regulators worried about Alibaba’s oversized market influence.
Under the new organization, the cloud computing arm, where the outgoing Zhang is chairman and CEO, is seeking to list as soon as next year. Other units pursuing IPOs include the logistics arm Cainiao and grocery chain Freshippo.
Zhang’s stepping down comes as Alibaba cofounder and billionaire Jack Ma gradually returns to the public spotlight after spending years lying low and travelling abroad amid the country’s once heightened crackdown on the entire internet sector. On Saturday, Ma made an appearance in Hangzhou to talk to teachers and students participating in an Alibaba-organized mathematics competition. This marks his second known appearance in mainland China this year.
The mogul stepped down as Alibaba chairman in 2019, and has been pursuing philanthropy since. At a recent tech conference held in Paris, Alibaba President Michael Evans said Ma is spending more time in China, and “cares as much about this company today, as he did when he started.”
The billionaire also had internal talks with Alibaba executives in May, according to local media Late Post. He reportedly said competition had become grim, and the company should act quickly. Ma urged Alibaba to pay more attention to its Taobao platform, where smaller merchants often sell products at a cheaper price, Late Post reported.