Alibaba: 'We Will Do Things Our Own Way'

Alibaba.com Group CEO Jack Ma said Saturday that no matter what happened to major shareholder Yahoo, the company would retain its independence.

"As to the sale [of Yahoo], when this happened, I told the team, no matter what happens we will do things our own way. We are the people who make the decision," Ma said, speaking at a press conference at the Second APEC Business Advisory Council SME Summit in Alibaba's home city of Hangzhou. "It will not change our vision. It will not change our independent management of the company."

Ma had been mostly silent on the potential impact of a Yahoo sale to Microsoft on Alibaba. In August 2005 Yahoo purchased a 40 percent stake in the Chinese e-commerce company, paying US$1 billion and turning over Yahoo's China unit to Alibaba. It still holds that stake plus 10 percent of Alibaba's listed entity. Since its initial public offering in November, 2007, Alibaba.com has become one of Asia's largest Internet companies.

As to whether Alibaba would buy back Yahoo's holdings in the event of a sale to Microsoft, Ma said he would leave that decision to his CFO, Joseph Cai. "I only spend one percent of my time and my brain on who is buying and who is selling," he said of the company's shares. He also said that on his list of priorities, shareholders only rank third, after customers and employees.

Ma sounded a note of caution for his shareholders and for the SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) that are his company's primary customers: "Alibaba should be prepared for winter. SMEs should prepare for the winter."

Although he said a cold snap had not yet arrived for his company or its customers, both should be ready for potentially tougher times. Due to pressures such as high oil prices and the declining U.S. dollar, Ma said Alibaba will concentrate on domestic China trade for the next six to 12 months.

Ma also confirmed that Taobao.com, Alibaba Group's consumer auction site, will begin charging fees beginning in October. The site -- a category killer with 60 to 70 percent of China's consumer-to-consumer e-commerce market -- was free for its first five years of operation. He did not say what the fee structure would be or when in October the fees would begin.

The APEC SME Summit runs through Sunday.

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