Alibaba’s Ma Says Tiananmen Comparison Misunderstood

Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, has complained of “a terrible misunderstanding” after he allegedly compared his own management style with Deng Xiaoping’s handling of the 1989 June 4th crackdown. From Paul Mozur and Josh Chin at The Wall Street Journal:

Thursday morning in Hong Kong, Mr. Ma said: “I was trying to describe the circumstances under which I made tough decisions when I was CEO of the company. Regrettably my remarks as reported [by the SCMP] did not reflect what I told the reporter, and caused a terrible misunderstanding.” On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the South China Morning Post said Mr. Ma made the comments and the paper stands by its account.

[…] “As the country’s highest decision maker he demanded stability, he needed to make this kind of cruel decision,” Mr. Ma said [according to SCMP]. “This wasn’t a perfect decision, but it was the most correct decision, at the time it was the most correct decision. No matter when it is, a leader needs to make this kind of decision. Anyone could fool around and choose to not decide, but that’s not management.”

Misunderstood or not, Ma’s comments are not expected to affect his company’s widely anticipated IPO, which may take place later this year. In the meantime, WSJ’s Rolfe Winkler writes, Yahoo!’s stake in Alibaba is buying time for CEO Marissa Mayer to turn the company around:

Yahoo’s second-quarter results, released late Tuesday, were unimpressive at best. Sales shrank 1% year over year, and the company forecasts no improvement in the third quarter. Ms. Mayer has little to show for her efforts a year after becoming CEO.

Still, Yahoo shareholders didn’t seem to mind: The stock jumped 7% on Wednesday and now trades at a five-year high.

For that, credit is due to Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang. He is no longer with the company, but he spearheaded Yahoo’s investment in Alibaba. Yahoo, which owns a 24% stake in Alibaba, shared financial results for the Chinese e-commerce giant on Tuesday. Its first-quarter sales jumped 71% year over year to nearly $1.4 billion. Meanwhile, thanks to high and rising margins, operating profit more than tripled to $700 million. To put that in context, Evercore Partners projects that in 2014, Alibaba’s operating profit will be nearly as high as Facebook’s revenue.

In 2011, Ma said that he would be “very interested” in buying Yahoo! as a platform for global expansion, commenting “China is already ours, right? It’s already in my pocket.”

Read more about “the Alibaba phenomenon” in a pair of cover stories from The Economist in May, and about Chinese e-commerce in general in an article from its April special report on China’s Internet.