Alibaba CEO hopes to partner with U.S. companies
* Alibaba CEO says hopes for partnerships with U.S. cos
* Sees chance to serve small businesses online in downturn
* Plans $30 million marketing spend, mostly in U.S.
By Anupreeta Das
NEW YORK, March 12 (Reuters) - Alibaba Group's Chief Executive Jack Ma said he hopes to strike multiple partnerships with major U.S. companies in the next few months as the Chinese e-commerce giant seeks to expand its U.S. presence.
Ma, who has been touring U.S. companies along with senior Alibaba managers, said he has had "fantastic discussions" with executives at seven companies in recent days.
The company is set to intensify talks with two or three of these companies before striking a possible agreement, he said.
The Alibaba team has met with executives at Yahoo Inc (YHOO.O), Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), Google Inc (GOOG.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O), eBay Inc (EBAY.O), Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) and General Electric Co (GE.N), Ma said in an interview on Thursday.
"We have not come here to compete," said Ma, who wore a bright yellow sweater over a white shirt and sipped green tea. "Let's think of what we can do together to help small and medium businesses."
But he added that Alibaba, which plans to add about 5,000 people to its workforce of 12,000 this year, would pursue its U.S. expansion plans independently if these partnership talks did not work out.
Alibaba Group, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this September, is a holding company for a handful of e-commerce sites in China, including the publicly traded Alibaba.com Ltd 1688.HK and online retail site Taobao.com, dubbed China's eBay.
Ma said he also met new Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz but downplayed any relationship between the two companies. In 2005, Yahoo merged its China operations into Alibaba in exchange for a 40 percent stake in Alibaba Group.
Ma said he expects to draw up proposals for as many as three possible partnerships over the next three to six months.
He didn't disclose the nature of these plans, but said they would be designed to help Alibaba expand in the U.S. market, while helping the U.S. companies navigate the Chinese market using Alibaba's extensive distribution channels.
China had 298 million Internet users last year, surpassing the United States' 220 million web surfers, according to data from www.internetworldstats.com.
Alibaba.com, which went public in 2007, connects more than 35 million registered small business buyers and sellers around the world. Taobao serves about 100 million registered users, or about three-quarters of the Chinese online consumer market.
Many eBay "powersellers" -- the site's most prolific sellers -- already use Alibaba's sites to scour for products that they resell to customers in the U.S. and Europe, Ma said.
Ma said he sees an opportunity to expand Alibaba's U.S. presence in the midst of the economic downturn, as mass layoffs drive people to try their hand at setting up their own businesses, such as online buying and selling.
"You've been working at a bank for 20 years," Ma said, imploring the typical Wall Street employee who might have lost his job recently. "Why not start your own business now?"
He said Alibaba, which is also hiring at its Silicon Valley office, expects to add to its U.S. base of one million users.
The company has set aside $30 million for marketing, most of which will be spent on U.S. campaigns, Ma said.
"There must be something you can sell, you can buy, you can trade," said Ma, who believes that small, entrepreneurial businesses can create jobs and revive the flagging U.S. economy. "The smaller you are, the more flexible you are, the more nimble you are, the more powerful you will be."
(Reporting by Anupreeta Das, Tiffany Wu, Martin Howell in New York; Alexei Oreskovic, Alexandria Sage in San Francisco; Edwin Chan in Los Angeles)
(Reporting by Anupreeta Das; Editing by Carol Bishopric)
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