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Jack Ma's successor created Alibaba's 'Singles' Day'

Inventor of version of Black Friday to navigate 'new retail' age

As chief executive since 2015, Daniel Zhang, born in 1972 in Shanghai, has been running the day-to-day operations as well as making business deals.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Both within China and overseas, Daniel Zhang Yong has made a name for himself in the business world as the organizer of Alibaba Group Holding's blockbuster annual sales event, the Nov. 11 Singles' Day shopping festival that now dwarfs the combined receipts of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales in the U.S.

Zhang is now set for a much higher public profile with the announcement by Alibaba founder Jack Ma Yun that he will hand over the chairmanship of the company to Zhang in a year's time. Ma already yielded the role of chief executive in 2013, but has remained Alibaba's public face until now.

As chief executive since 2015, Zhang, born in 1972 in Shanghai, has been running the day-to-day operations of Taobao and Tmall, the company's marquee shopping sites, as well as making business deals and spearheading the group's "new retail strategy" of integrating online services and physical stores.

To many Alibaba employees, Zhang is simply known as "Xiao Yaozi," a nickname he gave himself in reference to a character in the martial-arts novels of Hong Kong author Louis Cha who advocates a free and unfettered spirit.

Zhang, a former accountant with auditing house PwC, joined Alibaba as chief financial officer of Taobao, the group's flagship shopping marketplace in 2007, after serving in the same role for Chinese gaming company Shanda Interactive Entertainment. In 2009, Zhang oversaw the launch of Tmall, a business-to-consumer online mall, as Alibaba sought to upgrade its image by working directly with consumer brands to promote their products.

That same year, Zhang came up with the concept of Single's Day around what had been an informal event for people to celebrate being single, based on the date's numerals (11/11). The event is now a massive logistical exercise and involves close cooperation with suppliers and consumer brands from around the globe. At last year's sale, Alibaba's internet platforms generated a gross transaction volume of 168.2 billion yuan ($24.62 billion), with participants from 225 countries.

In 2013, Zhang was named chief operating officer of Alibaba. He now also serves as chairman of Sun Art, an Alibaba-backed Chinese retailer listed in Hong Kong, and is a member of the board of Weibo, operator of China's biggest microblogging platform and another Alibaba investee.

"Since he took over as CEO, he has demonstrated his superb talent, business acumen and determined leadership," Ma said in a public letter on Monday praising Zhang. Ma said he believed passing the torch to Zhang and his team is "the right decision at the right time."

"I know from working with them that they are ready," Ma said.

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