This Is Jack Ma's Successor. What Makes Him Fit for It?

Last month, we published an article about September 10, the emotional day when Alibabas Jack Ma officially stepped down as chairman of the company. 

Click to read the article: Unbelievable! 60000 Alibaba Staff Leave Stadium Party Like This!

On that day, the internet mogul formally handed over the chairman position to the companys CEO, Zhang Yong.

But who is Zhang Yong?

What makes him suitable to be Jack Ma's successor?

Zhang Yong is not a product manager, nor does he know IT - a rarity among other Internet CEOs.

It is said that Zhang Yong has gradually become the new leader of a corporate giant with a market value of RMB 460 billion under repeated extreme pressure.

This is his story.


Zhang Yong was born in Shanghai in 1972 and received his degree in securities and futures from the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics in 1994.

After graduation, he took his first job as an auditor at Arthur Andersen, then the world's largest accounting firm.

In 2002, his company was acquired by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) and by 2005, the 33-year-old Zhang was a senior manager at the firm.

At that point in this career, he surprised everyone by transitioning to a gaming company, Shanda Group, where he worked from Finance Director to becoming Vice President and CFO in only 2 years.

Zhang Yong joined Shanda group in 2005. Zhang was already financially free.


That year, Zhang Yong learned about Taobao from his wife, and after careful analysis of its growth, he became very interested in Alibaba. 

This was the same time when Jack Ma was in the midst of planning Alipay's future, but the problem was that none of the executives had a background in finance.

Zhang first met Jack Ma in the summer of 2007, and when Zhang was asked why he wanted to join Alibaba, he answered bluntly: Ive helped a $3 billion listed company grow, now I want to grow a $30 billion listed company.


A Shanghai native moving to Hangzhou for work? 

This wasnt a plan many people supported at the time. But with the goal of reaching a $30 billion valuation in hand, Zhang packed his bags and joined Alibaba.


What important contributions did Zhang Yong make in his tenure at Alibaba?

The first was to save Taobao.

In 2008, the head of (Tmall's predecessor) quit. After the outbreak of the global financial crisis, the e-commerce site hadnt been able to find a good profit model, and the team was so fragmented that there were only about 20 people left.

This is when Zhang Yong took the initiative to take over management of the product.

Zhang Yong took a page out of Black Friday's book and used low-priced promotions to boost consumption. 

Under his push, Taobao Mall's business model was overhauled and it broke even for the first time in August 2009.

But the most genius move was to transform singles' day on November 11 into a national carnival, more famously known as Double 11, which changed Chinese consumers' shopping habits. 

Today, sales from Double 11 are astronomical.


In 2012, Zhang once again helped Alibaba through the most dangerous of times, which changed Jack Ma's perception of his CFO.

By the end of 2012, WeChat had gone viral all over China and everyone was already playing around with it, yet they only used Alibabas Taobao on their computers.

Zhang Yong took the lead and, with a group of new people, transformed the Alibaba website and e-commerce platform to be mobile friendly, which then led to the introduction of their standalone app.

This was a big moment for the company.

In 2016, Zhang announced that out of the RMB 3+ trillion generated in sales from the Alibaba website, 70% of them were coming from wireless devices and that nearly 400 unique users were using the app every quarter.


Zhang Yong has been staying in a hotel in Hangzhou for 12 years and goes back to Shanghai on weekends.

While many people have pressed him to buy an apartment or invest in property following the rise in Hangzhous housing prices, he continued on with his belief that the best investment you can make isnt on a house, but in yourself.

As far as he is concerned, only by continuously investing in himself can he cope with the hardships that have come his way.

And cope, he did.


"Smart and hardworking" were the most common traits Alibaba employees use to describe him.

But above all, he is also a good leader.

In March 2015, Hou Yi founded the grocery chain Fresh Hippo under the guidance and support of Zhang Yong and with Alibabas resources. It is an online-to-offline e-commerce fresh food start-up.

So what makes Zhang Yong suitable to replace Jack Ma?

Since 2007, he has helped create Tmall and Double 11 which, since a decade ago, has increased sales from RMB 5.2 billion to RMB 213.5 billion.

He also led the creation of the Taobao mobile app and getting the Fresh Hippo business up and running.

But the most important comment of all is Jack Mas, who has also repeatedly called Zhang an outstanding business leader.

"I think it is the right decision for me to hand over the torch to Zhang Yong and his team," he said in the open letter.

We can now rest with confidence that Alibaba is in the right hands.

Now over to you, Zhang.

Editor: Crystal Huang


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