Alibaba, navigating sea change, reorients business towards bread-and-butter e-commerce and AI, pares down overhaul

By March 2023, Alibaba had lost three quarters of its value from the peak in October 2020, as the e-commerce giant, once seen as China’s answer to Amazon.com, faces questions on whether it can recapture its former glory while dealing with China’s economic slowdown, regulatory scrutiny and fierce competition from old and new rivals.

The Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. Photo: AFP
It was against this backdrop that Alibaba, owner of the South China Morning Post, announced in that same month an overhaul plan to break itself into six independently run entities on top of other smaller units.
Less than three months later, Alibaba announced that Joe Tsai, one of two “permanent partners”, will return to take the helm of the group as chairman, with Eddie Wu Yongming, one of the earlier lieutenants of Ma, assuming the role of CEO. Zhang left the company last September, and his original plan of launching separate IPOs for the Cloud Intelligence Group and Cainiao Smart Logistics Network were eventually cancelled.

Ma, who no longer holds any management role but has become Alibaba’s largest shareholder after early investor SoftBank cashed out its stake, wrote a rare long memo to Alibaba employees this week, endorsing the changes made by Tsai and Wu and urging employees to embrace innovation.

“We made countless mistakes in the past 25 years, and we will [continue to] make mistakes in the next 77 years”, wrote Ma. “To face problems is not to deny the past, but to responsibly find the way to the future.”

In a podcast interview with Norges Bank Investment Management’s CEO Nicolai Tangen last week, Tsai also said the group has made “mistakes”.

“We have fallen behind because we forgot who our real customers are,” Tsai said. “Our customers are the users who use our

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