Jack Ma and Alibaba: the Year of Records in Review

March 10 2019

Alibaba became the symbol of China’s unstoppable business rise and the laboratory of the New Retail, as well as innovation at the service of the shopping experience. 2018 has been a great year for Jack Ma, just before he hands over the reins

It has been another great year for Jack Ma, founder of the Chinese giant Alibaba and richest man in the Middle Kingdom.

In September, an article of the New York Times claimed that Mr. Ma, in an interview with the magazine, announced his intention to step down and retire as chairman effective of the successful e-commerce platform.

The news of the “changing of the guard” seemed to be a huge scoop and it quickly spread all around the world as a historic change for the company that is just about to exceed the popularity of the other e-commerce colossus, Amazon.

However, Alibaba’s spokesman responded through the pages of the South Morning China Post saying that Jack Ma is not ready to retire yet and that “he remains the company’s executive chairman and will provide transition plans over a significant period of time.”

Nevertheless, after 20 years of extraordinary growth in China and in a worldwide network, the Hangzhou company is actually taking some important decisions about the business’ helm.

Jack Ma and Alibaba - Hangzhou - cifnews

© Unsplash. Hangzhou. As home to Alibaba, Hangzhou has earned the title of “e-commerce capital of China”.

Even if retirement is not involved, Alibaba announced that Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang will succeed Jack Ma as chairman of the board of the Group. The founder will continue to be the company’s executive chairman in order to ensure a smooth transition of the chairmanship to Mr. Zhang. Alibaba’s number one will complete his current term as a member of the board of directors until the annual general meeting of shareholders in 2020.

“This transition demonstrates that Alibaba has stepped up to the next level of corporate governance from a company that relies on individuals, to one built on systems of organizational excellence and a culture of talent development,” said Mr. Ma.

Through his words and actions, the colossus’ father demonstrated again how the company’s vision and mission do not change over time. Even after being elected the richest man in China since 2014 by Forbes magazine or after reaching amazing records during the online shopping event 11.11, Alibaba’s goal is still building a global network of mutual business opportunities by developing talents.

Even if Jack Ma will pass the group’s reins off to his CEO soon, 2018 has been another year to be proud of.

Jack Ma was the World Trade Organization Public Forum’s keynote speaker together with the Director General of the WTO Roberto Azevedo. “Technology should not be feared but rather harnessed to develop trade and society,” they commented.

In September, the Chinese giant’s number one co-chaired the first meeting of the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperationheld in New York. Established by the United Nations, the group was led by Melinda Gates – co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – and Jack Ma with the purpose to develop concrete proposals aimed at improving digital cooperation at the global level.

The following month, he also spoke as one of the keynote speakers at the World Trade Organization (WTO) Public Forum in Geneve, Switzerland, about what sustainable trade would look like in 2030 and beyond.

For what concerns the Alibaba Group, 2018 followed the trend of successes the company started 20 years ago. Even this year, the Chinese startup not only managed to start new partnerships to spread its mission beyond the PRC borders but it has also broken every conceivable record.

On the occasion of the 10th-anniversary Global Shopping Festival, Alibaba reconfirmed itself not only as the PRC e-commerce leader but also as a worldwide champion.

Jack Ma and Alibaba - Global Shopping Festival 2018 - cifnews

© Alizila.com. This year Global Shopping Festival reached over $ 50 billion in total. Alibaba and JD lead the rankings respectively with $ 30 billion and $ 22 billion in revenue.

Created in 2009, the Single Day – also known as Double 11 – became the most important shopping event in the world. If after just one minute from the stroke of midnight, the turnover reached $ 700 million, one hour later it reached one billion dollars. At the end of the 24 hours event, the Hangzhou based company closed with $ 30 billion in revenue and a 27% increase over last year.

In just 10 minutes, Alibaba has eclipsed Amazon’s Prime Day sales expectations, in 24 hours it surpassed both Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. The Jack Ma’s giant confirms its leadership in the e-commerce sector.

Although people outside of China know very little about the Alibaba Group, the comparison with overseas sales numbers is ruthless. The Single Day is now the symbol of China’s unstoppable business rise and each year it sets new records. The number of users, as well as the number of brands and nations involved, are growing year after year and the festival has now become the showcase of all the new technologies at the service of online sales.

Besides the Double 11, in 2018 the e-commerce giant has been active on many fronts both in the local market as well as in the international scene. Earlier this year, Alibaba paid $750 million for a stake in the cinema division of Chinese firm Wanda Film and it completed the acquisition of Chinese food-delivery leader Ele.me while teaming up with Starbucks too.

Moreover, in Africa, Mr. Ma launched the Netpreneur Prize to promote economic development and to encourage younger and more promising entrepreneurs. The prize will award $ 10 million to 100 African startups over the next 10 years.

Nevertheless, the list of Alibaba’s achievements during the past 12 months could be endless.

Surely, the use and improvement of hi-tech have been a common thread in the past year’s investments and successes of the Hangzhou based company. One example is the 2018 Winter Olympics, during which Alibaba built the first “Olympics on Cloud” using its cloud computing infrastructure and launched an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system, called Alibaba ET Sports Brain, helping the Games travel the road to digitalization.

Jack Ma and Alibaba - space egg - hangzhou - cifnews

© Alibaba AI Labs. After trialling the service robot at hotels, AI Labs will determine whether it’s suitable for use in hospitals, restaurants, and offices.

However, one of the latest successful experiments in the hi-tech field of AI is certainly the construction of the first automated hotel in China, in Hangzhou. The FlyZoo Hotel hosts a robotic intelligence called Space Egg, which combines Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) technology with communication and facial recognition abilities.

The first automated hotel in China is FlyZoo Hotel. The idea launched by Alibaba is to put intelligent interactive technologies at the service of the tourism industry and of hotel guests.

In addition, during the last 11.11 event, Alibaba-owned Cainiao Smart Logistics Network managed to handle 1 billion delivery orders in 24 hours for the first time thanks to advanced technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) applications, big data, edge computing, AI and AGVs.

Since it opened the biggest automated warehouse in the Middle Kingdom in Wuxi, Jiangsu, the company placed itself at the forefront of the logistics industry.

Jack Ma and Alibaba - hema supermarkets - wuhan - cifnews

© Unsplash. Wuhan. Alibaba recently opened new Hema supermarkets all around the country. The chain now also serves consumers in Xi’an, Nanjing, Wuhan, and Guangzhou.

The expansion of Hema supermarkets during the year and a new online medical consulting service launched last summer are parts of the group’s New Retail strategy, which aims to combine online and offline commerce redefining the boundaries to make them complementary.  

Now worldwide analysts look to Jack Ma’s company as a sort of laboratory of integration between online and offline, as well as innovation at the service of the shopping experience. However, as the last achievements demonstrated, it is not only about retail anymore. Alibaba is now a hi-tech forerunner and innovator in many fields.

While its strategy perfectly fits in the Made in China 2025 plan and in the Belt and Road Initiative, its next goal is to reach 2 billion users by 2036, continuing with investments in e-commerce in Southeast Asia, on the cloud and the strengthening of the service in large urban centers.

The year that is going to end is just a showcase of what the group is going to implement in all of our lives. Even if Jack Ma would not be at the helm of the company soon, his vision is surely going to change the retail world as well as the technology at the customers’ service sector.

As the founder said, “Alibaba was never about Jack Ma, but Jack Ma will forever belong to Alibaba.”