Lazada, Alibaba's Southeast Asian arm, appoints its third CEO in three years

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Southeast Asian e-commerce firm Lazada, a unit of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd BABA.N, on Friday named its third chief executive in three years - a move that comes after it lost ground last year to rival Shopee.

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Chun Li, Lazada co-president and head of its Indonesia operations, will take the helm from July, replacing co-founder Pierre Poignant.

The change was made after a middling performance from the e-commerce firm, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters, declining to be identified as they were not authorised to speak to media.

A Lazada spokesman said there was “no truth to this statement” and the company rejected what it called an unsubstantiated assessment of its performance.

Singapore-based Shopee, which is backed by Tencent Holdings 0700.HK, was the most downloaded e-commerce app and the most used in Southeast Asia as of end-2019, knocking Lazada to second place, according to research firm iPrice. Shopee's website also attracts more visitors than Lazada's, iPrice said.

Lazada has disputed those findings without providing details.

Li will work to improve Lazada’s performance through data technology application and business localisation, the company said.

“We introduce change to strengthen our leadership in support of our business strategy”, the spokesman said.

Alibaba has had struggles in managing Lazada and sources have highlighted a long-running culture clash with management from China and heavy executive turnover in recent years.

Poignant himself replaced Lucy Peng who stepped down as CEO after nine months in 2018 although she remains executive chairwoman. Lazada said Poignant will now become special assistant to Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang.

Three sources also told Reuters Lazada is examining whether to rebrand or shut down LazMall, its take on Alibaba’s Tmall marketplace where companies set up virtual shops.

The Lazada spokesman said this was incorrect and LazMall was an important business for the company.

E-commerce in Southeast Asia was worth $38 billion last year and is expected to grow rapidly, according to a study by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company.

Reporting by Keith Zhai and Fanny Potkin in Singapore; Editing by Edwina Gibbs