Evans will be responsible for heading up Alibaba’s international growth outside China and its globalization efforts, Alibaba said. The e-commerce giant said Evans will report to Alibaba Group chief executive officer Daniel Zhang.
Evans is already a management member of Alibaba’s board and has served as an independent director at the company since the group’s blockbuster initial public offering last year. That landmark public offer helped bolster Alibaba’s profile as an e-commerce power player.
Alibaba said that Evans has more than 20 years of work experience in China and will be responsible for forging partnerships with brands, retailers and product owners in Europe, the Americas and Asia.
“Globalization is Alibaba group’s most important strategy for the coming decades, and our goal is to help 10 million global businesses and serve two billion consumers around the world,” Zhang said. “We have been laying the foundation for many years and now we need a global team in place with best-in-class talent to bring our vision to fruition. To that end, I can think of no one better than Michael to help Alibaba become a truly global company.”
According to Peter Williamson, professor of international management at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School, the appointment makes “a lot of sense” as Evans bring to the table an extensive knowledge of international business and international deal making, and a strong network of relationships around the world.
“All this will be very helpful as Alibaba tackles overseas markets that are different from China and where there are well established e-commerce competitors in many places — there are real challenges for the company as it tries to grow outside China,” Williamson said.
“I believe Alibaba will need to grow internationally using partnerships with foreign players and possibly with some ‘fill-in’ acquisitions to provide additional technologies, new products or other kinds of support services. In successfully forming these partnerships and making acquisitions the 30 years of experience Michael Evans has in global finance will be very useful,” he added.
Though a former senior employee at Alibaba told WWD the appointment of a president with such a strong financial background could indicate the Chinese e-commerce giant was eyeing some “bold financial moves in the U.S.,” Williamson doesn’t see major acquisitions on the horizon.
“I would expect that Alibaba will seek to grow the business organically as they internationalize, rather than making a big acquisition. And I am sure they will try to innovate in services they provide and the consumer segments they focus on, avoiding going head-to-head with companies such as Amazon,” he said.
What is beyond doubt is that the year has seen a significant ramping up of Alibaba’s global aspirations through a number of “cross-border” initiatives, whereby consumers from any country in the world can order products from any other country in the world and have them delivered cheaply and quickly. Thus far, this has mainly involved facilitating the need from Chinese consumers for authentic foreign products, which are easier than ever to access in China through e-commerce channels because of initiatives such as Shanghai’s Free Trade Zone.
One initiative involves partnering with 13 countries — including the U.S., Britain, Australia, Japan, Korea, France and Spain — to set up official country pavilions on Alibaba’s Tmall global platform.
Also unveiled earlier this year was the co-operation between Alibaba’s group buying arm, Juhuasuan, and 26 foreign embassies in China to collaborate on the marketing and promotion of these countries’ products on Juhuasuan, as well as the consolidation of Alibaba’s overseas marketplaces by merging the 11 Main boutique shopping marketplace with social shopping platform OpenSky.
According to Michael Zakkour, vice president at Tompkins International and an expert on Chinese e-commerce and Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce behemoth touches 75 percent of all e-commerce transactions in China.
“For three years I have been advising brands to get involved with Alibaba in China, not just for China, but because Alibaba is going global and they could go with them,” he said. “Alibaba’s aim is to become the first truly global e-commerce company. They have and will continue to invest in supply chain infrastructure, new e-commerce platforms and foreign technology companies to do so. The appointment of Michael Evans as president is a clear statement of intent to not only continue pursuing this path but to speed it up.”
It remains to be seen whether this global push from Alibaba is good for small- to medium-sized American businesses, as Alibaba’s executive chairman Jack Ma claimed in a speech to the Economic Club of New York in June.
“People ask me when we’re going to invade America,” Ma said. “We have great respect for eBay and Amazon but…for us, it’s helping small businesses in America and selling their products to China.”
According to Williamson, the answer to this question for fashion retailers and brands is, probably.
“This is probably good news for clothing suppliers as Alibaba will bring new opportunities and innovations to the e-commerce market,” he said. “On the other hand, they may provide new route for the Chinese competitors trying to build their own clothing brands to reach the international market.
Evans is the second high-ranking executive from the financial world to jump over to the tech industry. Earlier this year, Ruth Porat left her job as chief financial officer at Morgan Stanley to become cfo at Google.