Alibaba Names Insider Jonathan Lu As New CEO, Replacing Founder Jack Ma

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Alibaba, China’s e-commerce giant, today named insider Jonathan Lu Xaoxi as its new CEO — filling a hole two months after founder Jack Ma announced that he would be stepping down from the position. The move is another step in the company’s wider restructuring, which saw the creation of some 25 separate business units to account for the company’s various interests, which range from the Taobao online marketplace to group shopping (Juhuasuan), online payments Alipay, mobile plaform Aliyun, and more.

When Ma announced he was stepping down as CEO, one of the reasons he gave for his move was his age. Ma said that 48 was too old, and that younger people at Alibaba had a better grip on the change that is needed at the company. That was probably more smoke and mirrors, or a little humor, than anything else. Lu, who is 43 (so not so much younger than Ma), will take over May 10, and Ma will continue to be involved in strategic decisions as executive chairman.

“Serving as Alibaba Group CEO is an extremely challenging and difficult job, especially succeeding a founder CEO like me,” Ma writes in an internal memo to staff announcing the change. For the Ma-ists out there, we have embedded it below.

Some stand-out points about the new CEO:

Lu is an insider. He’s been at the company for 13 years — joining when Alibaba was only a year old. His current title is EVP, and in his time there he has run three different divisions of the company, including running Alibaba.com and the Taobao shopping platform — which Alibaba points out on its blog will be turning 10 on the same day.

Among other things, Lu is currently heading up Alibaba’s mobile payments platform initiative, Aliyun. In a sense, he’s Alibaba’s David Marcus, someone who is focused not just on making sure what the company does today is continuing to go well, but that it will be in the center of the action for whatever else comes next. All the same, he is a safe company man.

“Jonathan and I have worked together for 13 years,” Ma wrote in an internal e-mail quoted by the company’s blog. “During that time, he founded the Alibaba.com Guangdong sales team; was the founding president of Alipay; served as president of Big Taobao; stepped in as CEO of the then-listed Alibaba.com. He is currently the Group’s chief data officer and president of Aliyun Mobile OS.

Lu is a big data man. One of his other responsibilities at present is chief data officer. Putting him at the top of the pyramid is a signal, perhaps, of how Alibaba will also be putting this idea — as applied both to its own company and potentially as a business unit to help enterprises, Alibaba’s core customer base — as a key part of its business.

It’s not clear whether he will be running the show with quite the same outspoken style as Ma. “Lu, 43, has a reputation as a low-profile leader, an operations whiz with the ability to get things done,” the blog notes flatly. “Lu has an entrepreneurial streak. Before joining Alibaba, he worked in the hotel industry, then co-founded a network communication company. But he shuns the spotlight—unlike his predecessor Ma, a well-known Chinese Internet entrepreneur who built Alibaba Group into the world’s largest private tech company with 24,000 employees and an estimated valuation of more than $40 billion.”

In terms of what Lu will be doing: he will be overseeing all 25 new business units and the nine presidents that run them. The one exception will be the company’s financial services business, Alibaba Small and Micro Financial Services Group, Alibaba’s financial services arm. That is run by Lucy Peng, Alibaba’s current chief human resources officer and previous head of Alipay, who was appointed to this position last week.