23 January 2019
Alibaba founder Jack Ma said if he had another life, he’d keep the company private. Photo: HKEJ
Alibaba founder Jack Ma said if he had another life, he’d keep the company private. Photo: HKEJ

Jack Ma’s IPO regrets may turn into Hong Kong’s gain

Not for the first time, tech billionaire Jack Ma has said he’s not happy despite Alibaba’s success.

Alibaba successfully launched a mega listing in New York last September, paving the way for his flagship group to become the world’s biggest e-commerce firm in market value.

Ma went as far as saying that if he could choose again, he would not take Alibaba public because life hasn’t been easy since the group became a listed company.

“If I had another life, I’d keep my company private,” Ma told the Economic Club of New York earlier this week. “Life is tough when you IPO.”

Ma got what he had wanted. The company’s partnership structuresomething the Hong Kong stock exchange didn’t allow but US regulators handed out on a silver platteralready gives top management nearly absolute control of the post-IPO board.

This two-tier voting rights structure limits shareholders’ ability to influence corporate matters, including all issues determined at the board level.

But still Ma complained about regulations being too tight in the United States.

Ma is also unhappy with the American corporate culture. He laments that the group’s culture has been affected by some independent board members inside Alibaba who performed like lawyers and were more interested in second-guessing other directors than determining what’s best for the company.

What could all these mean for the Hong Kong market?

One possibility is that Ma could be considering a backdoor listing for some of his assets in Hong Kong.

Although the group is listed in the United States, Ma is more active in the city.

Alibaba has already acquired a number of Hong Kong-listed companies, including Alibaba Pictures Group (01060.HK), Alibaba Health Information Technology (00241.HK) and the ReOrient Group (00376.HK).

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EJ Insight writer

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