Alibaba names Jonathan Lu new CEO

The Alibaba Group veteran will take over from founder Jack Ma who will focus his energies on the more strategic role of executive chairman.
Jonathan Lu

Alibaba Group, China’s leading e-commerce company, has appointed group veteran Jonathan Lu as its new chief executive officer, according to an internal announcement emailed to all employees yesterday.

Lu, who is currently chief data officer of Alibaba Group and president of mobile device operating system Aliyun Mobile OS, will officially take over the CEO role from Alibaba founder Jack Ma on May 10. The day of the transition coincides with the 10th anniversary of Taobao, the group’s online consumer shopping platform.

Ma, who is only 48, will retain the role of executive chairman, and while he is relinquishing the responsibility for the day-to-day running of the company, he is expected to remain deeply involved in the strategic development and growth of Alibaba’s many individual businesses and the group as a whole.

Lu’s appointment, made by the group’s executive committee, comes two months after Alibaba surprised the market by announcing that its founding CEO was to step down in May, and ahead of an expected initial public offering of the entire group.

Alibaba has been positioning itself for a listing in the past year by taking its Hong Kong-listed online trading platform Alibaba.com private through a $2.5 billion offer to minority shareholders, and by repurchasing half of Yahoo’s shareholding in Alibaba Group at a total cost of $7.6 billion.

The appointment of a new CEO is viewed as the final major stepping stone before the group starts to focus its attention on a group listing, which could come either late this year or early 2014. With a talked-about equity valuation of up to $70 billion, it is one of the most anticipated IPOs in Asia at the moment and investment banks are already actively vying for a role on the deal.

As CEO, Lu will have overall responsibility for all of Alibaba’s businesses, except Alibaba Small and Micro Financial Services Group, which is in the process of being established, according to an English translation of the internal announcement. Lucy Peng, the former head of Alipay, was appointed CEO of Alibaba Small and Micro Financial Services Group last week.

Lu has worked at Alibaba for 13 years, having joined the group the year after it was founded by Ma and 17 others in 1999 as a platform for Chinese exporters to connect with international buyers. During this time, he has founded Alibaba.com’s Guangdong sales team; acted as the founding president of online payment business Alipay; served as president of market-leader Taobao during a time when the business grew rapidly; and stepped in as CEO of Alibaba.com in early 2011, in time to oversee its privatisation last year.

According to a media report, Lu is the only senior executive who has experience overseeing all of Alibaba’s major divisions and sources note that he has more than once been relied upon to lead key initiatives and businesses at critical junctures in the group’s history.

A report on Alizila, a website dedicated to news and commentary about the Alibaba Group, noted that Lu, who is 43, has a reputation as a low-profile leader and an operations whiz with the ability to get things done.

The announcement to employees, which was signed by Ma, described Lu as being both passionate about, and familiar with, the group’s various businesses.

“Not only has he contributed to building our culture and organisation and developed many talented people, he also possesses a unique leadership style and charisma,” Ma said. “Jonathan has impressed with his curiosity and ability to grasp new ideas, his judgment and decisiveness, and his strong execution capabilities. Most importantly, his 13 years with Alibaba Group have shaped him to approach everything with optimism and perseverance, as well as loyalty to and appreciation for small businesses and consumers.”

The company was started with the aim of providing an online market place for Chinese companies, but in the past 14 years it has grown into an e-commerce giant with a variety of businesses and more than 24,000 employees. Aside from Alibaba.com, Taobao, and Alipay, its other major divisions include Tmall.com, which is a leading online platform for merchants offering quality brand-name goods to consumers; shopping search engine eTao; and Alibaba Cloud Computing.

In January this year, the group was reorganised into 25 business units to better adapt to China’s fast-growing e-commerce environment.

Lu holds a master's degree in business administration from China Europe International Business School in Shanghai and before he joined Alibaba in 2000, he worked in the hotel industry and co-founded a network communication company.

He was given the title of executive vice president in July last year, at the same time as he assumed his current job as chief data officer. In this role, he has been responsible for driving the company's strategically important Big Data initiative, which is centred on the creation of a data-sharing platform that can be accessed by the millions of small businesses that use Alibaba’s services.

Ma noted that serving as Alibaba Group CEO is “an extremely challenging and difficult job” but added the he strongly believes that with the support and assistance of its employees, Lu can lead the group “to achieve even more seemingly impossible things” in the group’s pursuit of building a business ecosystem.

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