When I first met Daniel Zhang on a rainy day in 2007, he was CFO of a successful publicly traded technology company, and Alibaba was searching for a model to generate revenues for our consumer marketplace, Taobao. I wondered why he would be interested in a finance job with us. More than a decade later, Daniel would take over from Jack Ma as executive chairman of Alibaba.
Daniel turned the impossible job of succeeding an iconic founder into an art. He transformed an obscure holiday in China—Singles’ Day—into the world’s largest online-shopping festival, generating a record $38.4 billion in gross merchandise volume in 2019. He incubated the world’s first multichannel supermarket for consumers to shop on their smartphones from home as well as in stores, and hid the project from Jack until its success couldn’t be a secret anymore. Very few can keep up with him in intellect and energy, but most will point to his humility and perseverance as hallmarks of his leadership.
Quietly, Daniel led Alibaba through the height of the pandemic in China with courage and creativity. He kept supply chains running, supported small businesses and even brought AI solutions to hospitals for COVID-19 diagnosis. In a year in which global economies have been massively disrupted, were we looking for a steady pair of hands or innovation-led excitement? In Daniel Zhang, we got both.
Tsai is co-founder and executive vice chairman of Alibaba Group