Alibaba finance chief to step down in company restructuring

Alibaba’s longtime finance chief Maggie Wu is stepping down as the Chinese ecommerce giant shakes up its organisation to reverse slowing growth and halt the fall of its share price to a five-year low.

The ecommerce group founded by Jack Ma more than two decades ago has been under pressure since Ma criticised Chinese regulators in a Shanghai speech last year that led to the suspension of sister company Ant Group’s blockbuster initial public offering.

Alibaba’s US-listed shares have tumbled 64 per cent since the IPO was derailed, and the group was fined a record $2.8bn for antitrust abuses this year. Analysts said it had poorly navigated Beijing’s campaign to rein in tech companies.

“This year, Alibaba has raised its share buybacks while competitors like Tencent have spent big to fulfil the government’s common prosperity aims,” said Robin Zhu of Bernstein, referring to Beijing’s policy to encourage wealth redistribution.

“Investors have been discussing accountability in management so [Wu’s departure] is not a total surprise,” added Zhu, noting she had led the company for many years.

Deputy finance chief Toby Xu, who joined Alibaba from accounting firm PwC three years ago, will take over the role from Wu in April.

Alibaba last month slashed its growth prospects in response to China’s slowing economic momentum and mounting competition from rivals.

The ecommerce company, the largest Chinese group listed in the US, has come under additional pressure after ride-hailing leader Didi Chuxing announced on Friday it would delist from the New York Stock Exchange just five months after its IPO.

Didi’s delisting plan has stoked concerns about the future of other Chinese companies listed overseas. China’s securities regulator said on Sunday it was not pushing companies to withdraw from US exchanges, adding that it was working with Washington to resolve a stand-off over access to audit papers that could result in all Chinese groups being kicked off Wall Street within three years.

Alibaba chief Daniel Zhang on Monday outlined further structural changes that will consolidate the company’s international business under the leadership of 36-year-old executive Jiang Fan, while co-founder Trudy Dai takes over its domestic ecommerce business.

Jiang ably helmed Taobao’s push into mobile and was seen as a contender to take the reins of the entire group until a personal scandal turned into a public relations crisis for Alibaba last year.

Wu, who managed Alibaba’s books through three public listings, was known for taking subtle jabs at less frugal competitors in earnings calls and for her steady hand in the company.

“Maggie is forever calm and unflappable, regardless of ups and downs in the global capital markets and macro environment,” said Zhang.

“She is humble and resilient, and has been my irreplaceable and closest partner over the years,” he added. Wu will remain at Alibaba as a partner and director.

Wu called her resignation the “culmination of extensive preparation over many years” and a step to promote a new generation of leaders at the company.

“The markets will always have ups and downs, but Alibaba has ambitious long-term goals,” she said.

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