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Command and control

命令與控制

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

中國的科技創始人通常牢牢掌控公司

Jack Ma’s graceful exit from Alibaba is unusual

馬云優雅退出阿里巴巴非同尋常



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.

中國網上流傳一則諷刺笑話。中國最杰出的三家科技公司創始人:阿里巴巴的馬云、騰訊的馬化騰、百度的李彥宏出去散步。如果一人淹死了,他們公司的股票有何反應?如果是阿里巴巴的馬云,股票會下跌;如果是騰訊的馬化騰,股票沒有變化;如果是百度的李彥宏,股票會上漲。

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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).

所有這些都與它的電商宿敵京東的遭遇形成鮮明對比。本月初,京東創始人與總裁劉強東在美國明尼蘇達州因涉嫌強奸而短暫被捕。網上流傳著他被警方拍攝的面部照片,網民就美國司法程序的細節交流信息。京東股價在兩個交易日跌去16%,創下2014年公司在美國納斯達克上市以來的最大跌幅,市值損失72億美元。警方仍在調查此案(劉強東通過律師否認一切過失行為)。

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.

兩起事件突顯中國企業管理存在棘手的長期隱患:“關鍵人風險”。來自香港的亞洲公司治理協會的艾哲明表示,其他國家也存在科技總裁過于強大的問題,但中國司法程序不透明使問題更加嚴重。中國的全球企業通過控股結構來確保創始人對公司的掌控牢不可破,在國內外飽受詬病。

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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.

劉強東被捕的新聞(在大學校園被捕,他當時在攻讀商業管理博士學位)令人意識到,擁有繼承人計劃的中國科技巨頭多么鳳毛麟角,沒有人知道誰是二把手。香港企業法專家林雨馨預測,“關鍵人”風險在未來十五年將惡化,因為現年四五十歲的科技公司創始人將接近退休年齡。

Doing it Ma’s way

走馬云的路

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.

在這種背景下,馬云沉著地處理了交接工作。《阿里巴巴:馬云的基業》一書的作者鄧肯·克拉克說,阿里巴巴想顯示它從開始就有所不同。為了讓公司延續至少102年(1999年創立,跨越三個世紀),阿里巴巴打算培養一種不依賴公司創始人的企業文化。公司在一定程度上實現了這一目標,馬云開始重回2013年的路,他當年卸任首席執行官(相比之下,馬化騰、李彥宏、劉強東仍在擔任首席執行官和董事長)。馬云是第一位宣布退出的中國大型互聯網公司創始人。

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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%.

企業管理專家認為,在這些科技巨頭中,最公正的當屬騰訊。該公司也有“可變利益實體”,但是自2004年在香港上市以來一直實行一股一票結構。據說馬化騰之所以選擇香港證交所(今年四月才允許“雙重股權結構”)因為希望他的互聯網公司能夠出色地達到當時更嚴格的企業管理要求。2007年以來,馬化騰在公司的經濟權和投票權從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.

在京東引起網絡轟動之際,一向寡言少語的“美團點評”創始人王興向他的社交媒體粉絲發出一條隱晦消息:“希望戰爭不會爆發,否則未來九天還會發生更多的黑天鵝事件”。“美團點評”是一家在線服務創業公司,預計于9月20日在香港上市。對于投資者而言,當務之急不是戰爭或爆炸性事件,他們更在乎公司有沒有“可變利益實體”、超級表決權股份,創始人是否同時擔任董事長和首席執行官。企業管理批評人士感到不安的是,中國科技新星“美團”同時具備這三點。