Alibaba names 'low-profile' CEO to replace Jack Ma

Alibaba executive Jonathan Lu will take over in May

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group named its new CEO to replace Jack Ma, choosing from within its ranks long-time company executive Jonathan Lu, who will start in his new role on May 10.

Alibaba announced the appointment on Monday. Ma said in January he would step down from his position as CEO to usher in the next generation of company leaders.

Lu, 43, is currently Alibaba's chief data officer and joined the company just a year after it was founded in 1999. He has served in management roles with several businesses within the group, including its sourcing platform Alibaba.com, online payment service Alipay, and e-commerce retailer Taobao.

"He's been well-groomed for the role in that he's served in a variety of different capacities for the last 12 years," said Mark Natkin, managing director for Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting, who was not surprised by the appointment.

Lu will be taking over a company that currently dominates China's e-commerce space, but is also branching out into other fields to attract users to its ecosystem of services. In 2011, Alibaba began promoting its own mobile operating system, called Aliyun, and last month it also launched a new search engine.

Alibaba's corporate news site described Lu as a "low-profile leader." This contrasts with Ma, who is perhaps China's most visible Internet CEO and also known for inviting famous celebrities, such as Kobe Bryant and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to speak at company events.

Despite Lu's appointment, Ma will still have a prominent place in shaping Alibaba's future, Natkin said. The company has said Ma will continue to serve as its executive chairman, and will work to develop company strategy and managerial personnel.

"It's maybe not so necessary to have someone who's a good showman, and instead who's a good steward," Natkin added.

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