Alibaba Group’s executive vice chairman and co-founder Joseph Tsai will succeed Daniel Zhang as chairman starting September 10th this year. This is part of the company’s most significant organizational change in 24 years, where the group business is split into “1+6+N,” and partners are turning into subgroups, aiming to recreate several small Alibabas.
Tsai is the same age as Alibaba founder Jack Ma, both born in 1964. Unlike Ma’s outgoing and passionate personality, Tsai is low-key and rarely appears accepts media interviews. His father, Cai Zhong, and grandfather, Cai Liucheng, were both famous in the law circle. Tsai grew up following his father and was exposed to legal and financial affairs. He went to the United States to study at the age of 13 and eventually obtained a bachelor’s degree in economics and a law degree from Yale University. After graduation, he joined Sullivan & Cromwell, a well-known Wall Street law firm, as a tax lawyer. Five years later (1995), Tsai moved to Hong Kong, China, and served as vice president and senior investment manager of Investor AB Investment Company in Sweden, responsible for business in the Asia-Pacific region with an annual salary of $700,0002.
Ma’s background was different at that time when he was just starting his business in the Internet industry. The difference in background made it seem impossible for the two to have any intersection. However, in 1999, due to Investor AB Investment Company’s participation in Alibaba’s website capital increase work, the two met and hit it off at first sight. Tsai admired Ma’s leadership, while Ma appreciated Tsai’s professional ability in law and economics.
At the end of 1999, after finishing their business at West Lake, Hangzhou, Tsai suddenly proposed to Ma to join Alibaba while they were boating together. Ma almost fell into the lake when he heard this because he could only afford a monthly salary of 500 yuan. Between $700k and ¥500 ($78), Tsai firmly chose the latter and turned from an elite investor to a partner of a start-up company. His main task was to help Ma find money. Ma has said that he owes his achievements today to four people: Masayoshi Son, Jerry Yang, Jin Yong, and Joseph Tsai. If he had to choose one person he was most grateful for, it would be Joseph Tsai.
How important is Tsai to Alibaba and Ma? According to reports, Tsai has helped Ma with four important financings.
Finding “life-saving money” at critical moments many times has won Tsai the title of “God of Wealth” within Alibaba and has also been jokingly called “the man behind Ma Yun.” He is not only responsible for finance, investment, mergers and acquisitions and other businesses but also participated in Alibaba’s preparations for listing in Hong Kong and New York twice.
Outside of work, Tsai is also a sports enthusiast. He played football and hockey at Yale University and is now an avid basketball fan. Moreover, he acquired all the equity of NBA Brooklyn Nets team for $2.35 billion USD making him the only Chinese owner who fully owns an NBA team.