Spotlight on: Jack Ma, Founder, Alibaba
Stephen Foley is a former Associate Business Editor of The Independent, based in New York. He left in August 2012. In a decade at the paper, he covered personal finance, the UK stock market and the pharmaceuticals industry, and had also been the Business section's share tipster. Between arriving with three suitcases in Manhattan in January 2006 and his departure, he witnessed and reported on a great economic boom turning spectacularly to bust. In March 2009, he was named Business and Finance Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards.
Tuesday 22 May 2012
Anything to do with the Arabian Nights?
Chinese dawn, more like. Mr Ma is the first and the biggest of China's internet entrepreneurs, and Alibaba.com is the country's biggest commerce website. He is also the thorn that Yahoo just picked out of its side.
Seven years ago, when Alibaba was in its infancy and Yahoo bestrode the internet, the US company invested $1bn in Mr Ma's company for a 40 per cent stake. These days, though, it is Alibaba that is strong, thanks to the surging Chinese economy, and Mr Ma has been asserting his dominance.
Alibaba is going to buy out half of Yahoo's stake for at least $7.1bn, and the remainder will be sold down at market prices in coming years. They call this sort of deal a win-win: Yahoo ends its fractious relationship with Mr Ma, and Mr Ma cements his status as the all-conquering Chinese tech hero.
How is that going down with the regime?
Don't worry. Mr Ma is tight with Beijing. He set up the country's first internet company, China Pages, in 1995, and combined the job with running the information department of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. These days, he is just the sort of westward-looking entrepreneur that China likes, because he projects the country as a business opportunity rather than a threat.
So what next for Mr Ma?
He has spent the best part of the last year in the US, networking on Californian golf courses and trying to finalise Yahoo's exit. Now the plan is to float Alibaba.
And what's next for Yahoo?
That's a trickier question. The sale brings in cash (about $4bn after its whopping tax bill) but it doesn't solve the problem of what to do with Yahoo's ailing US business.
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