HONG KONG Jan 16 Jack Ma will step down in four months as CEO of China's privately held Internet giant Alibaba Group, but industry analysts say he will still be the invisible hand behind day-to-day operations as executive chairman.
The Internet entrepreneur, 48, in his letter to employees on Tuesday informing them of his decision, did not identify a successor. Ma did say the next generation of Alibaba executives are in a good position to oversee the e-commerce empire which he founded 14 years ago.
"Clearly, Alibaba is trying to transform beyond being an e-commerce company," said Michael Clenedin, managing director at technology consultants RedTech Advisors in Shanghai.
"So if Ma wants to do that, and he wants to get into social networking, launch a mobile operating system, or if he wants to get into online music, he needs to play a more strategic role, and I think that's what he'll do as chairman," Clenedin said.
Alibaba could also implement a rotating CEO system similar to the structure in place at Huawei Technologies Co Ltd , the world's No.2 telecom equipment maker, where a handful of top executives do the job for six months at a time.
Below are short biographies of senior Alibaba executives that analysts and industry observers say could be in the running to take over Ma as Alibaba's CEO:
JONATHAN LU ZHAOXI
Lu, who joined Alibaba Group in 2000, is the chief data officer and executive vice president. He is also at the helm of three of Alibaba's 25 business units, including the mobile cloud operating system unit.
In September 2004, he led a team in setting up Alibaba's online payment system Alipay and served as its president. In January 2008, he moved to Taobao, comprising the group's business-to-consumer and consumer-to-consumer online platforms, and was chief executive officer there in January 2010.
He was chief executive officer of the group's then-Hong Kong-listed unit Alibaba.com from February 2011 until mid-2012, when the unit was privatised.
Lu holds a masters degree in business administration from the China Europe International Business School.
His nickname in the company is Tiemuzhen, which is Genghis Khan's name in Chinese.
LUCY PENG LAI
Peng, one of the group's founders more than a decade ago, currently wears two hats. She is the chief executive officer of Alipay and is also the group's chief human resources officer.
Peng, who previously held senior leadership roles at divisions including marketing and customer services, graduated from Hangzhou Institute of Commerce of Zhejiang Gongshang University in 1994 with a business degree.
After her graduation, she taught at the Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics for five years.
Zhang, who joined Alibaba Group in March 2004 as the director of Taobao Marketplace's marketing department, is a president of Alibaba Group and now heads the group's operational, digital, integrated services, consumer and interactive business units.
From 2006 to 2009, she held leadership positions at Taobao Marketplace and Taobao Mall, which is now known as Tmall.com.
She later moved to Alibaba's cloud computing unit and oversaw wireless and mobile operations until December 2011.
Zhang holds a bachelor of law degree from Chinese People's Public Security University and a master's degree in business administration from China Europe International Business School.
Her nickname in the company is Yuyan, a character in a famous Chinese martial arts novel The Eight Immortals.
DANIEL ZHANG YONG
Zhang is in charge of Alibaba's business-to-consumer Tmall.com, logistics, supply chain and air travel units.
He joined Taobao in August 2007 and served as its chief financial officer. He became a president of Alibaba Group in June 2011.
Before Alibaba, Zhang was CFO of online games company Shanda Interactive Entertainment Ltd and worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers and Arthur Andersen.
Zhang holds a bachelors degree in finance from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, and is a member of the Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
His nickname at Alibaba is Xiaoyaozi, another character in the novel The Eight Immortals. (Additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Ryan Woo)