Alibaba marks 20-year milestone with pledge to push forward global e-commerce expansion

Jane Zhang

Alibaba Group Holding’s new executive chairman, Daniel Zhang Yong, pledged to advance the e-commerce giant’s strategies of expanding beyond China, serving domestic consumption and pushing into advanced technologies in a speech at the company’s 20th anniversary celebration on Tuesday.

“We must further advance our three strategies, that is globalisation, [catering to] domestic needs, big data and cloud computing,” Zhang, also the company’s chief executive, said on stage at the Hangzhou Olympic and International Expo Centre. “We also hope to push the reform of the supply side driven by big data, creating new demands for our consumers.”

Alibaba marked its latest milestone with a celebration that rivalled the spectacle of a big music concert. About 60,000 Alibaba staff and guests, clad in white T-shirts with the e-commerce giant’s logo, rocked the venue as they cheered a parade of the company’s various business units on the pitch as well as the performances of invited singers and clients’ representatives. The biggest ovation, however, was reserved for Alibaba founder Jack Ma when he went on stage to address the audience.

“Today isn’t about Jack Ma retiring but the beginning of a succession system,” he said. “Today isn’t about one person’s choice, but the success of a system.”

“Alibaba is just one of my many dreams. I still feel I’m young, there are many places I want to go visit, to challenge,” he said. “After tonight, I will start a new chapter of my life.”

Daniel Zhang Yong, Alibaba Group Holding executive chairman and chief executive, speaks at the company's 20th anniversary celebration on September 10 in Hangzhou. Photo: Handout

Ma, who turned 55 on Tuesday, is considered young to be stepping away from the company he helped to build from the ground up in a country where founders are inclined to wield a tight grip over their companies well into their eighties in some cases.

Ma’s departure from the executive chairman role, which coincides with Alibaba’s 20th anniversary, is perhaps the biggest indication that Alibaba has fully transitioned to a new era, with control handed over to a younger generation of leaders that have been tasked with keeping the firm going for at least 102 years – by which time its history (from inception in 1999) will have spanned three different centuries.

New York-listed Alibaba is also the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

In his speech, Ma also urged the 60,000 gathered at the stadium to devote their cause to solving China’s problems, pointing out that creating enough jobs will be a major challenge for the nation.

Alibaba Group marked its 20th anniversary with a celebration that rivalled the spectacle of a big music concert. Photo: Handout

On Tuesday, Alibaba also announced a refresh of its six core values to strengthen the company’s culture, as it navigates through the fast-evolving digital era and moves to remain relevant to its global workforce. It follows Alibaba’s recent reaffirmation of its mission statement: “To make it easy to do business anywhere.”

Its core values include: focusing on “customers first, employees second, shareholders third”; knowing that “trust makes everything simple”; remembering that “change is the only constant”; and that “today’s best performance is tomorrow’s baseline”.

One value asks: “If not now, when? If not me, who?”

The final core value is to “live seriously, work happily”.

Will the house that Jack Ma built be safe into the next century as Alibaba chief bids adieu?

Those represent the second refresh of company values in the past 20 years. The core values have helped propel Alibaba’s growth from an 18-person start-up founded in a Hangzhou flat to one of the world’s most innovative technology companies with more than 100,000 employees and over 30 business units.

With businesses across the e-commerce, financial technology, logistics, cloud computing and entertainment sectors, Alibaba aims to serve two billion consumers, help create 100 million jobs and enable 10 million small- and medium-sized enterprises to be profitable by 2036.

“In the past 12 months, Alibaba has consistently delivered solid results, demonstrating its strong execution capabilities” on the back of increased consumption by China’s middle class and higher income of consumers in the smaller cities across the country, according to Jefferies equity analysts Thomas Chong and Ken Chong in a report released on Tuesday.

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