Ant Financial Service Group, the financial arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba, recently appointed Eric Jing as chief executive.
Lucy Peng, who has been at the helm of Ant Financial since its founding two years ago, will remain chairman.
The move is said to pave the way for a Hong Kong initial public offering in 2017.
Peng, 43, a former economics professor, is one of 18 first-generation team members of Alibaba.
She has served as Alibaba’s chief people officer (CPO) for a long time before heading Ant Financial in 2013.
As the CPO, Peng focused on how to instill the right corporate culture and values in the group’s massive staff of nearly 40,000 people.
Peng is widely regarded as No. 3 in Alibaba behind Jack Ma and Group vice chairman Cai Chongxin.
Previously, Alibaba faced a serious credibility issue caused by fake goods and wrongdoing by merchants on its website.
Peng was the key person behind the effort to resolve the crisis.
Peng is well known for her patience, attention to detail and excellent communication skills.
It is said that she would e-mail back and forth with technical staff a hundred times over a minor product or service.
In a letter to employees announcing the personnel change, Ma wrote that Peng has demonstrated “outstanding leadership using unique insight as a woman”, and was a “rock-steady presence in the face of changing times”.
In the past, the internet world used to be dominated by men, who are typically better at science and engineering.
In fact, most programmers are male. The founder of the world’s top 10 internet firms are all men.
However, more women are serving key positions as CEO, COO, or CPO in internet giants these days.
Peng, for instance, joined the ranks of the most powerful women in internet giants, including Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.
In the early stage of the internet industry, technology was at the core of competitiveness.
A company that can develop a unique technology can often beat its rivals. Engineers and program developers were assigned the top posts.
Nowadays, all internet giants have cloud, big data, e-commerce, social networking platforms and artificial intelligence.
It’s not easy for ordinary customers to tell the difference. Brand image, company values and user experience are increasingly making the difference.
Women leaders usually do better in these areas.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 saga is a good example.
The poor handling of the explosion cases of the new smartphone may in fact have something to do with Samsung’s all men leadership team.
The CEO, CFO, COO, as well as the nine-person board of the Korean tech giant are all male.
By contrast, its arch rival Apple has two women on the board. Angela Ahrendts, former Burberry CEO, now serves as Apple’s vice-president of retail and online stores.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 12
Translation by Julie Zhu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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