Alibaba lifts veil on 'partnership' ahead of US IPO

A file picture taken on May 7, 2014 shows people as they walk past the entrance of the Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province. -- PHOTO: AFP
A file picture taken on May 7, 2014 shows people as they walk past the entrance of the Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Chinese Internet giant Alibaba, the world's largest online retailer, on Monday disclosed details of its unusual "partnership" management in documents filed for its US stock offering.

The filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission names for the first time all 27 "partners" who steer the firm, which is often described as a Chinese version of Amazon or eBay.

"We believe that our partnership approach has helped us to better manage our business, with the peer nature of the partnership enabling senior managers to collaborate and override bureaucracy and hierarchy," the document said.

There are no fixed number of partners and it may vary as members come and go, it added.

The new details appear aimed at easing concerns over the US listing for Alibaba, the date for which has not been set.

"Our partnership is a dynamic body that rejuvenates itself through admission of new partners each year, which we believe enhances our excellence, innovation and sustainability," the filing said.

"Unlike dual-class ownership structures that employ a high-vote class of shares to concentrate control in a few founders, our approach is designed to embody the vision of a large group of management partners.

"This structure is our solution for preserving the culture shaped by our founders while at the same time accounting for the fact that founders will inevitably retire from the company."

The partnership grew out of a group gathered in founder Jack Ma's apartment in 1999 - calling themselves "Lakeside Partners" at the time.

"We view our culture as fundamental to our success and our ability to serve our customers, develop our employees and deliver long-term value to our shareholders," the document said.

The initial filing indicates $1 billion will be raised in the public offering, but that amount is expected to be greatly boosted with later amendments.

Analysts say the listing is expected to raise somewhere around US$15 billion (S$18.3 billion), which would make it the technology industry's largest IPO since Facebook's in 2012.

The IPO is part of efforts by Alibaba to expand globally.

The latest SEC filing also named Alibaba's future board of directors, which will be legally responsible for the company.

The board will include four independent directors including Michael Evans, a former high-ranking Goldman Sachs executive, and Jerry Yang, one of the co-founders of Yahoo, which still holds a major stake in Alibaba.

The other independent directors will be Tung Chee-Hua, who was chief executive and head of the executive council of Hong Kong after the transfer of sovereignty of the territory to China in 1997, and Walter Kwauk, formerly of the US audit firm KPMG.

The board will also include Masayoshi Son, head of the Japanese telecom giant Softbank, which is expected to hold more than 30 percent of the company after the IPO.

Alibaba also announced its recent financial results - showing a profit of US$3.75 billion in the first quarter of 2014, on revenues of US$8.44 billion.

The company has still not indicated how many shares will be offered or whether it will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq.

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