This article originally appeared on Momentum Works’s Chinese blog hosted on WeChat platform. It is translated into English by our team for a wider audience.
This afternoon (6 Jan 2021), Alibaba’s bridgehead in Southeast Asia, ecommerce platform Lazada announced personnel changes at a Townhall.
Malaysia CEO Leo Chow and Thailand CEO Jack Zhang have been replaced by co-founder and chief strategy officer Magnus Ekbom and co-president Jessica Liu respectively.
Leo Chow took office only in January 2019. He is also Lazada Malaysia’s first senior executive sent from Alibaba. Previously he was Taobao’s global shopping director for 8 years. He joined Lazada in 2018 as regional vice president.
Before Jack Zhang took over as the CEO of Lazada Thailand, this position was held by James Dong.
Alibaba seniors who came in 2018
Dong used to be in charge of Alibaba Group’s global investment portfolio as Head of Globalization Strategy and Corporate Development. He joined Lucy Peng to be parachuted into Lazada after Alibaba’s U$2 billion additional investment in 2018.
At that time, other Alibaba executives who came to Southeast Asia included Max Zhang, senior director, and Chun Li, B2B division CTO of Alibaba Group.
Chun Li served as CEO of Lazada Indonesia and concurrently CTO of Lazada Group, and later replaced Pierre Poignant as Group CEO in mid 2020.
And Max Zhang did not go well at all in Lazada Vietnam. His unwillingness to understand the market and top-down management methods were resisted by managers in Vietnam. It is said that several senior managers complained to Lucy Peng in a letter that Max always replied to their emails emphasising the way they did things in China or at Taobao, but Vietnam was a different market.
The problems eventually led Max Zhang to be transferred out of Vietnam. James Dong took over as CEO of Vietnam, while still managing Thailand. Later on, he passed the Thailand business to Jack Zhang, his old colleague, to manage.
Jack Zhang turned out to be a disaster, disliked by managers, and hated by partners even within the group.
What’s interesting is that Magnus Ekbom, the Swede who just took over as CEO of Malaysia, has been a veteran since Lazada’s founding in 2012, by Germany’s Rocket Internet.
After serving as CEO of Indonesia for many years, he became Lazada’s full time chief strategy officer after the Alibaba acquisition. His old boss, Max Bittner, was later replaced by Lucy Peng as CEO of the Group; Lucy Peng subsequently passed the role to Pierre Poignant; Poignant was replaced by Chun Li in 2020.
And Ekbom is still there.
After so many changes, amongst the first batch of European founders sent by Rocket Internet to Lazada in Southeast Asia, Ekbom is the only one still standing. (Even after Martell Hardenberg left, in 2019):
The new CEO of Lazada Thailand, Jessica Liu, was responsible for Alibaba’s Tmall apparel business for 5 years, and joined Lazada in 2020 to replace Yin Jing. Yin was previously in charge Tmall’s Electronics and Home furnishings businesses.
The frequency of senior reshuffles probably confused many outside Lazada. Even for Lazada team, many mid level managers became puzzled and unsure. Someone who has worked at Lazada for 3 years said he had at least one new boss each year, and project direction changes happen more than once every quarter.
At first he felt that the constant change was a sign of being fresh and energetic, but after so many iterations he really is not sure what he has achieved.
It is said that during the Town Hall today, someone asked about the whereabouts of Jack Ma.
Globalisation of Chinese tech majors is not easy. It requires product, people, organisation and leadership to be coherent – and a lot of patience.