As Alibaba turns 20, company enters new era

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By: Tom Brennan, Christine Chou

Alibaba Group celebrated its 20th anniversary on Tuesday with a gala celebration in Hangzhou, highlighting its journey from 18 founders of a tiny e-commerce startup – launched from Jack Ma’s small apartment – into the $447 billion enterprise it is today, with about 100,000 employees working in dozens of businesses in offices around the world.

It was also Ma’s final appearance as executive chairman, as CEO Daniel Zhang was set to take over. However, Ma will remain on the board of directors until next year, and he is a lifetime member of the Alibaba Partnership, the company’s governing body.

In his final speech, Ma addressed those staff, telling them that the celebration was not about his retirement but rather “the beginning of a legacy of succession.”

Alibaba has long prided itself on its corporate governance, particularly its use of a partnership system that was created to ensure that the culture and ethos that have underlined the company and its approach to business for two decades remained intact long after the founders were gone. That focus on a responsible transition is what drove Ma’s decision to announce that Zhang would succeed him as chairman a year ago, offering customers, employees and shareholders that same visibility.

Alibaba’s rise has closely tracked – and, the company said, contributed to – China’s economic development. When Alibaba launched in 1999, China had only the most basic retail infrastructure, just 8.8 million internet users and a per-capita income of less than $800. Now, those numbers have soared to more than 800 million internet users, a per-capital income of more than $8,000 and total e-commerce turnover of more than $1 trillion. According to research firm eMarketer, China currently represents 54.7% of the global e-commerce market, a share nearly twice that of the next five countries combined. In a release, Alibaba said that about 40 million people were directly and indirectly employed by Alibaba’s e-commerce ecosystem in China.

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