Alibaba CEO, re Yahoo: 'We will do things our own way'

China-based company will remain independent even if minority owner is sold, Ma says

Alibaba.com Ltd. CEO Jack Ma said Saturday that no matter what happens to major shareholder Yahoo Inc., the China-based e-commerce company will retain its independence.

"As to the sale [of Yahoo], I told the team, no matter what happens, we will do things our own way," Ma said during a press conference at the Second APEC Business Advisory Council SME Summit in Alibaba's home city of Hangzhou.

"We are the people who make the decision," he continued. "It will not change our vision. It will not change our independent management of the company."

Previously, Ma had been mostly silent on the potential impact that a sale of all or part of Yahoo to Microsoft Corp. could have on Alibaba. For now, at least, such a sale is off the table; at Yahoo's annual meeting on Friday, some shareholders criticized the U.S. company's executives for the way they handled Microsoft's attempted acquisition, but there were fewer fireworks than expected.

In August 2005, Yahoo purchased a 40% stake in Alibaba for $1 billion and turned over its subsidiary in China to Ma's company. It still holds that stake plus 10% of the publicly traded stock of Alibaba, which has become one of Asia's largest Internet companies since its initial public offering last November.

Earlier this year, the Reuters news service reported that Alibaba was looking for investors to help it buy back Yahoo's shares in order to keep them out of Microsoft's hands. Asked Saturday whether Alibaba actually would seek to buy back Yahoo's holdings in the event of a sale to Microsoft, Ma said he would leave that decision to his chief financial officer, Joseph Cai.

"I only spend 1% of my time and my brain on who is buying and who is selling," Ma said of trading in the company's shares. He added that on his list of priorities, shareholders rank only third, after Alibaba's customers and employees.

Ma also sounded a financial note of caution for his shareholders and for the small and midsize enterprises that are his company's primary customers: "Alibaba should be prepared for winter. SMEs should prepare for the winter."

Although Ma said that a business cold snap has yet to hit Alibaba or its customers, he cautioned that both should be ready for potentially tougher times. Because of pressures such as high oil prices and the declining U.S. dollar, Ma said Alibaba will concentrate on its business within China for the next six to 12 months.

Ma also confirmed that Taobao.com, Alibaba Group's consumer auction site, will begin charging fees beginning in October. The site — which has 60% to 70% of China's consumer-to-consumer e-commerce market — was free for its first five years of operation. He didn't say what the fee structure would be or the exact date when the fees would take effect.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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