Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang steps down as Eddie Wu takes charge

20 Jun 2023

Incoming CEO Eddie Wu. Image: Alibaba Group

Zhang, who has been the CEO of Alibaba since 2015, will lead the company’s Cloud Intelligence Group which covers large language models.

There’s been a changing of the guard at the highest echelons of Alibaba as veteran executive Daniel Zhang has announced today (20 June) that he is stepping down as CEO and chair.

Zhang will be succeeded by current executive vice-chair Joseph Tsai as chair of Alibaba while Eddie Yongming Wu, current chair of the company’s Taobao and Tmall group, takes over as chief executive and director of the board. All parties start their new roles on 10 September.

Alibaba has confirmed that Zhang, who succeeded co-founder Jack Ma as CEO in 2015 and as chair in 2019, will move on to lead the Chinese e-commerce giant’s Cloud Intelligence Group, which covers cloud computing and AI.

In April, Alibaba revealed its own generative AI system to challenge the success of ChatGPT.

“This is the right time for me to make a transition, given the importance of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence Group as it progresses towards a full spin-off,” said Zhang.

The move comes just months after Alibaba announced it was splitting its business into six units to be more agile. One of these units will be the Cloud Intelligence Group, which will spin off as an independent listed company – subject to regulatory approvals.

“The market is the best litmus test, and each business group and company can pursue independent fundraising and IPOs when they are ready,” Zhang wrote in an email to employees in March.

Recovery hopes

Alibaba’s business has taken somewhat of a hit since Covid-19 and has been struggling to make a recovery.

It all started after Ma publicly criticised China’s financial watchdog and banks in a 2020 speech that was soon followed by a regulatory crackdown on tech companies. His fintech company Ant Group’s IPO was suspended and Alibaba was handed a $2.8bn anti-monopoly fine.

Most recently, Ma ceded his majority control of Ant Group as part of the company’s restructuring efforts to appease Chinese regulators. The fintech runs Alipay, which has reportedly become the world’s largest payment system, reaching roughly 1.2bn users globally.

The latest shake-up, which the company says was initiated by Zhang and approved by the board, will see Alibaba in the capable hands of Wu, who was responsible for propelling the company into the mobile era with the launch of the Taobao app.

“Daniel has made exceptional contributions to the development of Alibaba Group since joining the company in 2007, and he demonstrated extraordinary leadership in navigating unprecedented uncertainties affecting our business over the past few years,” said Tsai. “We believe there is no better leader than Daniel to steer Alibaba cloud intelligence group into the next chapter of its journey and future growth.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic