The appointment of former Goldman Sachs executive Michael Evans as president of Alibaba is the latest move in the Chinese conglomerate’s attempts to expand its business beyond its domestic base.
Evans has been an independent member of Alibaba’s board since the company’s initial public offering in September, having previously made his name at Goldman Sachs. In his 20 years there, he held several high-profile positions, including vice chairman of the firm and chairman of the company’s Asia unit.
“I believe the appointment of Mr Evans indicates Alibaba’s focus on international growth. Alibaba is making a senior appointment of a very experienced executive that will report directly to the chairman, which puts even more emphasis on the growth of the international business,” says Gil Luria, managing director, equity research for computer services and financial technology, at Wedbush Securities. He said Evans has wide-ranging experience “in a variety of regions, which should serve him well in this global role.”
Although Evans has impressive political and business connections in the US, Luria does not see this as the main reason behind his appointment. “The US market is likely part of Alibaba’s long-term plans,” he explains, “but I expect Mr. Evans to focus more on cross-border trade in and out of China, as well as growth in emerging markets, especially India and Russia.”
In fact, Alibaba has failed to gain much traction in the US, selling off its US online site to a rival after only a year. It is possible that Evans’s connections may help Alibaba gain greater acceptance in the US. It won’t be easy. The company has failed to create a favorable image in the country and has fallen afoul of authorities over counterfeit sales and protectionist policies.
Alibaba’s marketplace website, AliExpress.com, has seen better results in Russia and Brazil. That success might dictate Evans’s initial focus.