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Command and control

命令与控制

China’s tech founders mostly keep an iron grip over their firms

中国的科技创始人通常牢牢掌控公司

Jack Ma’s graceful exit from Alibaba is unusual

马云优雅退出阿里巴巴非同寻常



A WRY joke has been circulating on China’s internet. The founders of the country’s three most prominent technology firms—Jack Ma of Alibaba, Pony Ma of Tencent and Robin Li of Baidu—go for a stroll. One drowns. How would their stocks react? If it were Mr Ma of Alibaba, its shares would fall. If it were Mr Ma of Tencent (no relation), they would remain unchanged. And if it were Mr Li of Baidu, they would rise.

中国网上流传一则讽刺笑话。中国最杰出的三家科技公司创始人:阿里巴巴的马云、腾讯的马化腾、百度的李彦宏出去散步。如果一人?#36864;?#20102;,他们公司的股票有何反应?如果是阿里巴巴的马云,股票会下跌;如果是腾讯的马化腾,股票没有变化;如果是百度的李彦宏,股票会上涨。



All of which makes for a striking contrast with events at JD.com, Alibaba’s arch-rival in e-commerce. Early this month it emerged that Richard Liu, JD.com’s founder and boss, had been briefly arrested in the American state of Minnesota on a rape allegation. His mugshot circulated and Chinese internet users swapped information on details of America’s legal process. In two days of trading JD.com’s shares fell by 16%, their biggest drop since listing on America’s Nasdaq in 2014, losing $7.2bn of market value. The police investigation is ongoing (Mr Liu has denied any wrongdoing, through his lawyers).

所有这些都与它的电商宿敌京东的遭遇形?#19978;?#26126;对比。本月初,京东创始人与总裁刘强东在美国明尼苏达州因涉嫌强奸而短暂被捕。网上流传着他被警方拍摄的面部?#25484;?#32593;民就美国司法程序的细节交流信息。京东股价在两个交易日跌去16%,创下2014年公司在美国纳斯达克上市以来的最大跌幅,市值损失72亿美元。警方仍在调查此案(刘强东通过律师否认一切过失?#24418;?br />
The two events have concentrated minds on a thorny, long-standing problem in Chinese corporate governance: “key-man risk”. Over-mighty technology bosses are a problem elsewhere, but in China opaque legal processes make it much worse, says Jamie Allen of the Asian Corporate Governance Association, based in Hong Kong. China’s global champions employ control structures, built to ensure the founder’s hold is ironclad, that attract criticism at home and abroad.

两起?#24405;?#31361;显中国企业管理存在棘手的长期隐患:“关键人风险”。来自香港的亚洲公司治理协会的艾哲明表示,其他国家也存在科技总裁过于强大的问题,但中国司法程序不透明使问题更?#21451;?#37325;。中国的全球企业通过控股结构来确保创始人对公司的掌控牢不可破,在国内外饱受诟病。



News of Mr Liu’s arrest (on a university campus, while studying for a business-administration doctorate) was a reminder of how few Chinese tech giants have clear succession plans; no one is sure who is his second-in-command. Lin Yu-Hsin, a corporate-law expert in Hong Kong, expects key-man risk to worsen in the next 15 years as tech-firm founders, now in their 40s and 50s, come closer to retirement.

刘强东被捕的新闻(在大学校园被捕,他当时在攻读商业管理博士学位)令人意识到,拥有?#22363;?#20154;计划的中国科技巨头多么凤毛麟角,没有人知道谁是二把手。香港企业法专家林雨馨预测,“关键人”风险在未来十五年将恶化,因为现年四五十岁的科技公司创始人将接近退休年龄。

Doing it Ma’s way

走马云的路

Against this backdrop, Mr Ma has handled his own transition with aplomb. Duncan Clark, author of a book, “Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built”, says it wanted to show it was different early on. To last at least 102 years (to span three centuries from its founding in 1999), it planned to build a culture that did not rely on a founder. The firm has partly achieved that. Mr Ma began to pull back in 2013, when he stepped down as chief executive. (By contrast, Mr Ma of Tencent, and Messrs Li and Liu, remain chief executives and chairmen of their firms.) He is the first founder of a big Chinese internet firm to announce his exit.

在这种背景下,马云沉着地处理了交接工作。《阿里巴巴:马云的基业》一书的作者邓肯·?#27515;?#20811;说,阿里巴巴想显示它从开始就有所不同。为了让公司?#26377;?#33267;少102年(1999年创立,跨越三个世纪),阿里巴巴打算培养一种不?#35272;?#20844;司创始人的企业文化。公司在一定程度上实现了这一目标,马云开始重回2013年的路,他当年?#24230;?#39318;席执行官(相比之下,马化腾、李彦宏、刘强东仍在担任首席执行官和董事长)。马云是第一位宣布退出的中国大?#31361;?#32852;网公司创始人。



For the cleanest of the bunch, say corporate-governance experts, look to Tencent. It has VIEs, but the company has had a one-share-one-vote structure since it listed in Hong Kong in 2004. One account claims that Pony Ma chose Hong Kong’s exchange, which only allowed dual-class shares in April, because he wanted his internet firm to stand out as able to meet its stricter corporate-governance requirements at the time. Mr Ma has lowered his economic and voting rights since 2007, from 13% to 9%.

企业管理专家认为,在这些科技巨头中,最公正的当属腾讯。该公司也有“可变利益实体?#20445;?#20294;是自2004年在香港上市以来一直实行一股一票结构。据说马化腾之所以选择香港证交所(今年四月才?#24066;懟?#21452;重股权结构?#20445;?#22240;为希望他的互联网公司能够出色地达到当时更?#32454;?#30340;企业管理要求。2007年以来,马化腾在公司的经济权和投票权从13%降至9%。

Amid the online stir caused by JD.com, Wang Xing, the usually reserved founder of Meituan-Dianping, an online-services startup that is due to list in Hong Kong on September 20th, sent a cryptic message to his social-media followers: “Hope war does not break out or that there are other black-swan events in the next nine days.” For investors, the pressing matters are neither war nor shock events. They are more preoccupied by whether companies have VIEs, super-voting stock and a joint position for founders as chairman and chief executive. It is not reassuring for critics of governance that Meituan, China’s latest tech star, will have all three.

在京东引起网络轰动之际,一向寡言少语的“美团点评”创始人王兴向他的社交媒体粉丝发出一条隐晦消息:“希望战争?#25442;?#29190;发,否则未来九天还会发生更多的黑天鹅?#24405;薄!?#32654;团点评”是一家在线服务创业公司,预计于9月20日在香港上?#23567;?#23545;于投资者而言,当务之急不是战争或爆炸?#20801;录?#20182;们更在乎公司有没有“可变利益实体”、超级表决权股份,创始人是否同时担任董事长和首席执行官。企业管理批评人士感到?#35805;?#30340;是,中国科技新星“美团”同时具备这三点。