Alibaba exec moves to quell staff concern over Jack Ma share sale with internal post

By Casey Hall and Jenny Wang

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) -A top Alibaba executive told staff on Wednesday that it was a “coincidence” that a plan by former chief Jack Ma’s family trust to sell some shares in firm was disclosed on the same day the firm scrapped its cloud unit’s listing.

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 seen by Reuters that Ma’s office had earlier this year made a plan to sell some shares to reinvest in agriculture and public welfare projects.

They were required by U.S. securities rules to disclose the plan by mid-November, she said.

“Nov. 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 did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Jack Ma Foundation, the philanthropic organization that handles media queries for the billionaire, said in a statement to Reuters the reported stock sale has not occurred, adding that the messages Jiang posted in the Alibaba intranet are all factual.

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.

(Reporting by Casey Hall in Shanghai and Jenny Wang in Beijing; Editing by Brenda Goh and David Evans)