As Jack Ma Departs As Chairman, Alibaba Enters Uncharted Territory With Chinese E-Commerce Facing Rapid Slowdown

Jack Ma (pic via Twitter)

Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma stepped down as chairman of the world's biggest e-commerce company on Tuesday (9 September) leaving his chosen successor the onerous task of steering the $460 billion retail juggernaut at a time when the industry faces uncertainty amid a US-Chinese tariff war and is showing signs of a sharp downturn.

Jack Ma announced last September that he will hand over the baton of executive chairman to chief executive Daniel Zhang Yong and step aside from managing the e-commerce behemoth he founded.

Ma will continue to stay on as a member of the Alibaba Partnership, a 36-member group with the right to nominate a majority of the company's board of directors.

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Ma, a former English teacher, started the company in 1999 out of his apartment and has since driven the company to a dominant position in the e-commerce sphere in China.

Further, the company has a strong overseas presence in markets from South East Asia to Russia and has in recent years ventured into diverse areas such as cloud computing, digital payments and movie production among others.

Alibaba's market cap is around US$460 billion. It employs over 100,000 people, and has expanded into financial services, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

It was named as the world’s most valuable retail brand outside the US in 2019, according to a ranking by global marketing group WPP and consulting firm Kantar.

Ma's handpicked successor Zhang, who has served as the chief executive of the New York-listed firm since 2015, is widely credited with kick-starting what is now known as the world’s largest online shopping festival, Singles’ Day.  The gross merchandise volume of sales in its Singles’ Day 24-hour shopping event hit $30.8 billion last year.

It remains to be seen how Zhang steers the company through the turbulent period marked by US-China trade war and a slowing Chinese economy. Alibaba also faces stiff competition from domestic rivals such as Pinduoduo and JD.com for a larger e-commerce market share in China’s smaller cities – expected to be the next growth driver for Chinese consumption.

China's online retail sales grew a tepid 17.8 per cent in the first half of 2019, almost halving from the 32.4 per cent growth of the prior year, according to the national statistics office.

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