Has Alibaba Lost Its Genie?

With Jack Ma’s Retirement Has Alibaba Group Lost Its Genie?

By Ryan Carroll, Managing Editor


Sept. 2019

Jack Ma has official retired from Alibaba Group, seceding his position as Chairman (he previously has done so as CEO).

Will the announcement of Jack Ma’s retirement places Tencent in a position to take advantage of the vacuum left in the wake of Jack Ma no longer being the prominent face of Alibaba.

In all fairness Alibaba is an incredibly large, powerful, and successful company, but one cannot separate the fact that when people think of Alibaba they think of Jack Ma.

With the loss of Steve Jobs from Apple, Tim Cook stepped up and became the face of Apple. A company like Alibaba, which relies heavily on the cult-of-personality leadership in the media from their founders. But, it is unclear in Daniel Zhang can fill the charismatic shoes of Jack Ma, in the way Tim Cook has done for Steve Jobs.

Jack Ma announced that he will also cede licenses and legal entities to a number of board members, in particular he is surrendering control of variable-interest entities (VIEs) that hold the company’s business licenses. He is doing so, due to the fact that China still lacks laws on corporate governance, and by spreading out control of the company to its top executives Ma hopes to protect his shareholders. While also looking to position the control of the company over a larger group of executives so that, one or two individuals cannot gain overt control of the company.

The question now lies in if Alibaba is a strong enough corporation to continue without the face and man behind its phenomenal success? Especially, when the strategic partnership of Tencent and JD.com has encroached on its core ecommerce business.

Beyond ecommerce and brick-n-mortar ‘New Retail’, Tencent’s WePay is steadily moving on Alibaba’s own Alipay. With WePay beginning to dominate the fintech mobile payment areas outside of the 1st tiered cities of China, due to its embedded connection to WeChat and QQ without the need of downloading a separate app just for a payment (a la Alipay).

Tencent has its own charismatic leader in the form of the “Other Ma” Pony, but Tencent has risen as a social media, gaming, content connected ecosystem powerhouse without the need of Pony Ma being its public face. If you remove Pony Ma from the picture, the corporate governance of Tencent appears, on-its-face, to be more solidified than that of Alibaba.

Cloud services, ecommerce, fintech / mobile pay, these are all areas that may see rise within Tencent Holdings and decline in Alibaba Group, but like all things in the Middle Kingdom: The tea leaves are not always easily read.

Stay Tuned China Watchers!

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About the Author

Born and raised in the Missouri-Ozarks Ryan studied Film Production, and East Asian Culture, at the University of Kansas where he was a UGRA recipient that led him on a seven-year long, Journey From the West, to China. Where he worked with Warner Brothers, the China Film Group Corp. and the National Bureau of Statistics of China. Before returning to the States, where he specializes in Chinese Anime & Comics, China’s Box-Office, and Chinese entertainment-tech industries. He has a dog in China, Abigail, and a dog in the Arkansas-Ozarks, King Blue, who help ease his anxiety of suffering from the “Two-Dimensional Complex” that is trying to understand the Culture Industry landscapes of the Middle Kingdom.