Daniel Zhang addresses the crowd at Jack Ma’s retirement party on September 10, 2019.
Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang took over as the company’s executive chairman after cofounder Jack Ma retired on September 10, 2019. Zhang keeps such a low profile that the parents of an Alibaba employee once saw him in Alibaba’s Hangzhou headquarters and mistook him for a janitor, Bloomberg reported. As Alibaba’s new chairman, Zhang could face challenges amid the trade war between the US and China and a slowdown in the Chinese e-commerce industry. Zhang was a part of the team that created Alibaba’s hugely successful Single’s Day, the $25 billion online shopping event that is bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined, Business Insider previously reported. Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. Jack Ma is a hard act to follow. Daniel Zhang has accepted the challenge, first being promoted to CEO of Alibaba in 2015, the online marketplace founded by Ma, and then succeeding him as chairman after Ma’s retirement on September 10. Zhang, however, is as private as Ma is flamboyant. Read more: Inside Jack Ma’s 60,000-person retirement party, which was held in an Olympic stadium and featured employee performances that made Ma cry Alibaba did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on the transition or Zhang’s background. Keep reading to learn more about Daniel Zhang.
Daniel Zhang, 47, is a Shanghai native.
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Zhang was born and raised in Shanghai, where his father worked as an accountant, Bloomberg reported. Zhang earned a bachelors degree in finance from the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, according to his biography on Alibaba’s website. Zhang is also a certified accountant, according to Fortune. Early in his career, Zhang held positions at game developer Shanda Interactive Limited and PricewaterhouseCoopers, according to his biography on Alibaba’s website.
Zhang first joined Alibaba after meeting cofounder and Vice Chairman Joseph Tsai.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
Ma announced that Zhang would also succeed him as chairman in a letter published in September 2018.
Jack Ma, former chairman of Alibaba Group, in Paris in May 2019.
REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo
“Teachers always want their students to exceed them,” Ma wrote, according to a copy of the letter published by Quartz. “So the responsible thing to do for me and the company to do is to let younger, more talented people take over in leadership roles so that they inherit our mission ‘to make it easy to do business anywhere.'”
Zhang will likely have a different leadership style than Ma, who Business Insider’s Sinead Baker previously described as “the most flamboyant tech founder on the planet.”
Jack Ma, David Zhang and other Alibaba executives perform at Ma’s retirement party.
Courtesy of Alibaba
Zhang keeps such a low profile that the parents of an Alibaba employee once saw him in Alibaba’s Hangzhou headquarters and mistook him for a janitor, Bloomberg reported.
Zhang is not well-known in China like Ma is. Ma is so popular that his speaking engagements often draw large crowds, Business Insider previously reported. Bloomberg described Zhang as “slight and soft-spoken, often proceeding haltingly in English during calls with investors.”
Zhang knows he has big shoes to fill.
“We believe that the best way to give thanks to yesterday is to create the most beautiful future together,” Zhang said during his speech at Ma’s retirement party.
Zhang could face challenges amid the trade war between the US and China and a slowdown in the Chinese e-commerce industry.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File
Zhang is also looking towards Alibaba’s next big business.
AP Photo/Kin Cheung
“Every business has a life cycle,” Zhang told Bloomberg. “If we don’t kill our existing business, someone else will. So I’d rather see our own new businesses kill our existing business.” One new business Zhang supports is grocery and restaurant delivery service Freshippo, according to Bloomberg. Zhang worked on the project with a small team in a garage in Shanghai for months.
Zhang is already a workaholic, according to Bloomberg.
Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2019.
A normal weekday for Zhang “amounts pretty much to work, eat, and sleep,” according to Bloomberg. Alibaba has a reputation for requiring demanding hours and travel schedules from its employees, something employees poked fun at during their performances at Ma’s retirement party September 10.
Zhang has already created some big hits. He was a part of the team that created Alibaba’s hugely successful Single’s Day.
Daniel Zhang, CEO of Alibaba Group speaks after Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival also known as Singles Day sets a new record of RMB213.5 billion or more than US$30 billion in Shanghai, China, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
Zhang personally lobbied the online marketplaces’ merchants to participate in the first Singles’ Day in 2009, Bloomberg reported. The event generated $25 billion in sales in 2018 and is bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined, Business Insider previously reported. Occurring every November 11, Singles Day is the world’s largest day on online shopping.
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