One year is a long time in business.
For Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., it may not be enough.
Jack Ma plans to hand over the reins as chairman to current CEO Daniel Zhang 12 months from now, the Hangzhou-based e-commerce giant announced Monday. Ma himself will stay on the board until Alibaba’s 2020 annual shareholder meeting.
The date of his departure, Sept. 10, 2019, will mark Alibaba’s 20th anniversary.
Ma isn’t just being humble when he points to Zhang’s success as CEO since he took up the role in 2015. In an open letter published Monday, he lauded his protege, a man eight years his junior.
Since he took over as CEO, he has demonstrated his superb talent, business acumen and determined leadership. Under his stewardship, Alibaba has seen consistent and sustainable growth for 13 consecutive quarters.
Yet while Ma has named a management successor, he hasn’t put in place a new business model for Zhang to build upon.
We hear a lot in quarterly reports and ad-hoc speeches about the future of China’s retail economy; the power of technology to lift the masses; and Alibaba’s goal of building a platform to connect finance, shopping, content, delivery and cloud services.
But that’s all dreams. It’s not delivering any kind of stable profit.
While Alibaba is, without a doubt, huge in commerce, it’s still driven by a marketing model that keeps forcing sellers to constantly outbid each other for access to potential buyers. Unlike Amazon.com Inc. which makes money by buying and reselling goods, Alibaba’s business-model is essentially to sell ads. That works when turnover is brisk, but is strained when things slow and rivals come knocking.