Alibaba founder Jack Ma urges staff to learn from rival Pinduoduo

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Jack Ma has urged employees at Alibaba to learn from one of its closest Chinese rivals as the ecommerce giant he founded tries to find a new path after abandoning parts of its ambitious restructuring plan. 

“I firmly believe that Alibaba will change and reform,” Ma wrote in a post published on Alibaba’s internal forum on Wednesday and seen by the Financial Times. “I believe that Alibaba employees are always watching and listening,” he said.

He was responding to an employee post about the “stunning” third-quarter financial results from PDD Holdings, which saw Alibaba’s upstart rival nearly double revenue to $9.4bn.

The results sent its shares 18 per cent higher on Tuesday in New York. This gives the group behind Pinduoduo and Temu a market value of $183bn, only just below the $195bn of Alibaba, long China’s biggest ecommerce company.

Ma’s intervention comes at a critical moment for Alibaba, with new chief Eddie Yongming Wu rethinking the group’s restructuring plan, under which the company was expected to split into six different business units, so-called “mini babas”. Earlier this month, Wu cancelled parts of the restructuring, including the spin-off of the cloud business, and delayed the listing of the grocery business, citing “market conditions”.

In his post, Ma congratulated PDD on their “execution over the past few years” but added it was only companies that “reformed for the future” that earned “respect”. 

The enigmatic founder, who stepped down as chief executive in 2013 and as chair in 2019, has kept a low profile since the cancellation of Ant Group’s initial public offering three years ago. In March, he made a rare publicised trip to Hangzhou, where Alibaba has its headquarters. This was just before the group announced the ambitious restructuring programme.

Alibaba’s core domestic ecommerce businesses Taobao and Tmall have been battling growing competition from Pinduoduo and ByteDance. 

Many Alibaba employees were on Wednesday discussing how Pinduoduo would soon eclipse them, according to one person close to the company. The U-turn on the restructuring plan has created a lot of confusion internally, employees said.

Alibaba had also planned to create a separate business to handle IT services across all divisions, from ecommerce to media, two employees said. But after months of preparation, the plans were cancelled. 

“One day we are worried about the future of our business units that have been split off. The next day they’re being quietly merged back into Alibaba. I don’t know what the future holds for the company’s restructuring,” said one employee.

Ma ended his post with a rallying cry to employees, who have seen their company share price collapse 75 per cent since Beijing called off Ant’s IPO. He wrote, “back to our mission and vision, Ali people, come on!”

Alibaba declined to comment. 

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