A top Alibaba executive has claimed a plan by former chief Jack Ma’s family trust to sell shares in the firm being revealed on the same day it scrapped its cloud unit’s listing was just a “coincidence”.
In a move seen as an effort to quell ongoing unease within the e-commerce giant, Jiang Fang, an Alibaba partner and its chief talent officer, said in an post on the firm’s intranet that Ma’s office had made the plan to sell some shares to reinvest in agriculture and public welfare projects earlier this year.
And they were required by US securities rules to disclose the plan by mid-November, she said.
“November 16 happened to be the disclosure time set, but the stockbrokers did not know that this day was the day when the company was set to release its financial report,” Jiang said, adding that the “coincidence” had created a “severe misunderstanding”.
Investors wiped some $20 billion off Alibaba’s market value last Friday after the company abruptly scrapped plans to spin off its cloud and groceries businesses.
Analysts also said a regulatory filing that came out hours before the disclosure saying that Ma’s family trust intended to sell 10 million American Depository Shares in Alibaba hurt sentiment as it raised eyebrows about Ma’s commitment to the future of the company he co-founded.
Two company sources told Reuters that Ma’s move had generated a lot of discussion within the company, as did Jiang’s post. Alibaba and the Jack Ma Foundation, the philanthropic organisation that handles media queries for the billionaire, did not respond to requests for comment.
In her internal note, Jiang also repeated comments from Ma’s family office shared with the Alibaba-owned newspaper South China Morning Post on Friday that Ma remained “very positive” about Alibaba and that his family trust eventually did not sell a single share.
Jiang also said rumours that the company was going to lay off 25,000 people were untrue, adding that Alibaba had filed a police report over the matter.
Alibaba in March announced plans to carve out the cloud business as part of a restructuring, the biggest in its 24-year history, that broke the company up into six units.
The company has also been grappling with some upheaval in its top ranks, welcoming a new CEO, Eddie Wu, in September. That same month, former group CEO Daniel Zhang abruptly quit his position as cloud unit head, just two months after announcing his new focus would be cloud computing.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara