Alibaba discloses powerful partners, reveals slowing growth




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BY PAUL CARSTEN AND MATTHEW MILLER

BEIJING – Alibaba Group Holding revealed members of its powerful 27-person partnership and board on Monday, while disclosing that Chinese e-commerce giant’s growth has slowed from red-hot pace of recent quarters.

In an updated prospectus for what could be largest tech IPO in history, Alibaba said partnership includes founder Jack Ma, Executive Vice Joseph Tsai and Executive Jonathan Lu. The group has the exclusive right to nominate a majority of Alibaba’s nine- board, effectively ensuring control of the company rests in the hands of insiders.

Among four independent directors asked to join a post-IPO board were former Hong Kong Executive Tung Chee Hwa, Yahoo Inc founder Jerry Yang, and J. Michael Evans, former vice of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Alibaba is expected to eclipse Facebook Inc’s $15 initial share sale in 2012 when it debuts late this summer. But investors and governance experts have raised questions about Alibaba’s scant disclosures, and Ma’s murky web of third-party transactions.

Tung’s inclusion may doors for Alibaba, though his tenure was marked by controversy. He is the father-in-law of corporate finance Michael Yao.

“His family relationship is a negative from a Western governance point of view, but probably a from an Asian” perspective, said Boston University School of Management professor James Post. “The board will be the place where ‘East meets West’ governance happens at Alibaba in the years to come.”

The company’s five executive board directors are Ma, Tsai, Lu, Chief Operating Daniel Zhang, and Masayoshi Son, founder of SoftBank Corp, Alibaba’s biggest shareholder with a 34.3 percent stake.

Alibaba previously said its partnership encompassed 28 members, elected annually. It did explain the change on Monday.

GROWTH SLOWS

Monday’s filing also divulged more information about the operations of Alibaba, which handles more transactions than Amazon.com AMZN.O and eBay combined.

Alibaba reported its net income in the quarter ended March climbed 32 percent to 5.543 yuan ($892.7 million). was up 38 percent to 12.031 yuan, compared to a 62 percent increase in the previous quarter.

Shares of Yahoo, which tend to move in sync with the perceived valuation of its roughly 24 percent slice of Alibaba, closed more than 5 percent lower.

Alibaba’s eBay-like Taobao saw gross merchandise volume rise 32 percent to 295 yuan in the March quarter. For Amazon-like Tmall, volume was up 90 percent to 135 yuan. Both rates of growth were down from previous quarters.

“From the fourth quarter, you’re always going to have a drop-off quarter to quarter, but this is a pretty big one,” said Ronald Josey at JMP Securities. (Reuters)