“Exit” of Jack Ma: What Can We Learn From Alibaba’s Succession Planning?


Founded in February 1999, Alibaba started off as a business-to-business e-commerce marketplace helping small Chinese exporters, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs to sell products and services internationally. Since then, the company has expanded into a USD 420 billion juggernaut offering online wholesale and retail marketplaces, cashless payments, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, digital media and entertainment, and innovation initiatives. In a fast-moving and highly competitive business environment, it is of the utmost importance for Alibaba to continuously reinvent and redefine its business models. To pave the way for younger individuals to take over the company’s leadership roles, Jack Ma, the lead co-founder of Alibaba, removed himself from the position of chief executive officer on May 10, 2013, at the age of 49, but he remains as chairman until September 10, 2019. Following the succession, Ma will complete his current term as a member of Alibaba Group’s board of directors until the annual general meeting of shareholders in 2020, but he will continue to be a permanent member of the Alibaba Partnership, which has the right to nominate a majority of the directors to the board. This case provides readers with an opportunity to examine the approach taken by Jack Ma towards his succession, and to discuss the challenges after Ma’s “exit.” Since Alibaba Group has envisioned itself spanning three centuries, can its partnership system, governance structure, company culture, and business models be time-tested to ensure the sustainability of the group in the long run?

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