Alibaba CEO reassures employees amid economic and regulatory challenges

  • Chairman and CEO Daniel Zhang tells employees and their families to ‘relax’ despite uncertainties in the international situation and the Covid-19 pandemic
  • With strict pandemic lockdown measures weighing on the country’s economic outlook, Beijing is looking to give internet platforms a bigger role to help the economy

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding is an important contributor to society and continues to develop in a “regulated” manner despite major challenges, according to its chairman and CEO Daniel Zhang Yong.

Alibaba is embedded in Chinese society and the economy and is developing in a regulated manner along with the rest of China’s internet industry, Zhang said on Tuesday during the annual gathering of employees and family members at its Hangzhou campus, according to a press release citing his remarks.

“Family members of Alibaba, please relax. Despite uncertainties in the international situation and the Covid-19 pandemic, we are still developing as a whole,” Zhang said in the statement.

Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post, has been at the centre of a regulatory storm that has rocked China’s tech sector since late 2020. The company’s affiliated fintech unit, Ant Group, was forced to call off a mega IPO in Hong Kong and Shanghai at the last minute, while Alibaba was slapped with a record antitrust fine for alleged monopolistic practices.

The company reported its slowest quarterly growth on record in February this year, while its share price fell to a record low in March. Alibaba’s market capitalisation hit a low of HK$1.54 trillion (US$19.67 billion) that month, only about 40 per cent of what it was at the time of its Hong Kong listing. Its shares are currently trading at less than one third of their peak in late 2020.

Meanwhile, Alibaba’s founder and former chairman Jack Ma has kept a low profile and remains out of public view. Ma, who made a rare appearance at last year’s staff gathering, was not in any of the event photos Alibaba released on Tuesday. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, many Alibaba employees watched the activities, which included a group wedding ceremony, online.

With China’s strict Covid-19 lockdown measures weighing on the country’s economic outlook, Beijing has signalled an end to the regulatory campaign and is looking to give internet platforms a bigger role so they can help prop up the economy.

A slew of new policies are being devised to support Big Tech firms with innovation and globalisation, Economic Daily, a state-run newspaper, said last week. Platform operators will be given a bigger role in upgrading China’s manufacturing and agriculture sector and in stimulating domestic consumption, according to the report.

Alibaba will continue its globalisation strategy despite geopolitical headwinds and pandemic pressures, Zhang said at the event. Earlier this week, Lazada, Alibaba’s Southeast Asia e-commerce arm, received a US$378.5 million investment from its parent company for expansion.

Ali Day, as the annual gathering of employees and their families is known, takes place on May 10 every year and commemorates China’s efforts to overcome the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), when all Alibaba staff had to work from home because one employee had contracted the disease. The annual event began in 2005, and group wedding ceremonies for employees began the following year.

Alibaba rolled out multiple activities for the event this year. A video posted online shows employees playing virtual reality games and working out by using a rowing machine. Dozens of new married couples lined up in the rain on Tuesday – brides in the same wedding dresses and grooms in black suits – with umbrellas in hand.

“No matter how the market changes, we are still the same. Don’t get carried away when the market is good, and don’t sell yourself short when the market is bad,” Zhang was quoted as saying by local media Latepost.

Authors: Jiaxing Li, Tracy Qu, SCMP

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