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Data Sheet—The Low Expectations for Alibaba’s New CEO Daniel Zhang

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The world now knows that, in a year’s time, Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma will surrender his position as executive chairman to Alibaba’s current CEO, 46-year old Daniel Zhang. In the global media this week, profiles of Zhang have contrasted his background as a buttoned-down accountant with Ma’s rags to riches story, impassioned oratory, and flamboyant public appearances.

Many predict Zhang will find Ma a “tough act to follow,” and has “big shoes to fill.” The Wall Street Journal snickered that the nickname Zhang chose for himself within the company, taken from a martial arts character whose name means “free and unfettered spirit,” was wishful thinking. Veteran China tech analyst Duncan Clark described Zhang as “more Clark Kent than Superman.” On Monday, after Alibaba’s official announcement Ma will step down, BABA’s stock price slumped nearly 3%.

The guy who seemed least worried about Alibaba’s fate was Ma, who heaped praise on Zhang in a letter to staff: “His analytical mind is unparalleled…and he has the guts to innovate and test creative business models.”

Zhang’s rise to the top of China’s most powerful tech group had several false starts. After graduating from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, he was set to work for Barings, the British bank, just before it collapsed. His next prospect, Arthur Anderson, was done in by the Enron scandal. Zhang eventually landed at PwC, and from there jumped to Shanda, a leading online gaming company. He joined Alibaba in 2007 as chief financial officer of Tabao, its online e-commerce platform, and rose swiftly up the ranks.

At Alibaba, Zhang’s track record is impressive. He is the architect of Singles Day, an event created to promote online spending by China’s singletons that, over nine years, has transformed November 11 into the world’s biggest shopping extravaganaza. Zhang was the driving force behind Alibaba’s Hema supermarket franchise and, more recently, he spearheaded the Chinese tech giant’s partnership with Starbucks.

Zhang assumes the reins amid turbulent times for Chinese tech companies. But I’m inclined to agree with Henny Sender, who argues Alibaba has “never looked stronger.” Its major rivals—Tencent, JD.com, Didi, and Baidu—grapple with bigger challenges. They remain under the thumb of original founders while Alibaba is transferring control to younger, more execution-oriented leaders. As China’s tech sector moves into its next, more mature phase of evolution, Clark Kent may be just the superhero the times require.

Clay Chandler
@claychandler
clay.chandler@timeinc.com

NEWSWORTHY

Shocking. Still thinking about China, electric carmaker NIO priced its U.S. initial public offering at $6.26 per American depositary receipt, raising about $1 billion and valuing the upstart at over $6 billion. As Adam noted two weeks ago, the four-year-old company has sold less than 500 cars so far and could be a risky play on the Chinese electric car market.

Ugly chart. By one measure, the cryptocurrency crash of 2018 is now worse than the bursting of the Internet bubble. The MVIS CryptoCompare Digital Assets 10 Index has lost 80% from its all-time high in January, surpassing the 78% drop in the Nasdaq Composite Index when the dot-com world crashed, Bloomberg reports. Also on Tuesday, and probably not helping instill confidence in the market, U.S. District judge Raymond Dearie ruled that securities laws could apply to initial coin offerings, allowing a criminal case against Brooklyn resident Maksim Zaslavskiy and his two ICOs to proceed.

Squee. It’s Christmas, New Year’s and Thanksgiving all rolled into one for iPhone fans today. Apple’s annual event starts at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET, with new iPhones, a new Apple Watch and other goodies expected. Fortune’s John Patrick Pullen has a preview rounding up all the latest leaks and rumors we know to this point. Among other ways to watch, the announcements will be streamed live on Twitter for the first time.

Slowly I turned, step by step. After dribbling out the names of four cities over the past year for its first 5G wireless offering, Verizon on Tuesday revealed it would begin offering 5G home Internet service starting on October 1. Residents of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento in covered areas will be able to get download speeds of about 300 Mbps (with peaks of 1 GB), a free Apple TV, and three months of YouTube TV free for $70 per month, or $50 if they already subscribe to Verizon wireless. Also, T-Mobile announced on Tuesday a $3.5 billion 5G equipment deal with Ericsson. In combination with a similar $3.5 billion deal signed with Nokia over the summer, the agreements will help T-Mobile offer 5G mobile service next year, starting in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Las Vegas.

Track record. As the debate over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh continues, the Daily Dot’s Andrew Wyrich reminds senators that the judge cast the sole dissenting vote against the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 net neutrality rules. Kavanaugh’s rationale? The rules infringed the First Amendment rights of Internet service providers.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

China has been seen as the global leader in mobile payments, as apps like WeChat become the preferred option for transactions, so much so that some stores have stopped accepting cash. Now comes some pushback from Chinese regulators. Rui Zhong has a deep dive for Foreign Policy into those left behind in the Chinese payments scene. About 200 million people in China living in rural areas have no access to the smartphone and banking ecosystem, Zhong notes.

When apps are built on the assumption that residents of a specific community are formally enrolled in a bank or financial institution, the unenrolled are simply locked out of being able to pay. As a 2017 report from the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor indicates, close to 70 percent of rural Chinese remain offline and require a compelling reason to acquire the smartphone and bank account needed to utilize mobile payments. As these digital platforms attempt to become the default form of payment, China is facing a critical challenge to get its unbanked citizens caught up to financial inclusion standards.

The question of how accessible cashless payments truly are within China is an active, vibrant debate within domestic policy circles. A 2017 op-ed series in the Beijing News raised concerns that shifting invoicing systems to cashless ones without consulting rural communities or individuals would introduce risks: In communities that are cash-only, if individuals find themselves shut out of the financial system, they will be unable to conduct economic transactions related to agricultural equipment, seeds, and other purchases for farming.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Here Comes Another EU Law Threatening Google and Facebook With Enormous Fines By David Meyer

Cryptocurrency Goes to Washington With a New D.C. Lobbying Group By Lucas Laursen

Google Could Face a Huge Fine for Collecting Location Data From Users Who Don’t Want to Be Tracked By David Meyer

Amazon Is Selling Live, 7-Foot Christmas Trees This Holiday Season—and Shipping Some via Amazon Prime By Kevin Kelleher

Alphabet’s Loon Just Beamed the Internet Over 621 Miles By Don Reisinger

China’s ‘Amazon for Services’ Confirms IPO Plans, Despite a Tech Slump By Eamon Barrett

BEFORE YOU GO

NASA says it wants to send humans back to the moon in just a few years, but they may arrive to find a private Israeli research craft waiting. The 1,300-pound lunar lander from startup SpaceIL will be launched aboard a SpaceX flight early in 2019 and—if all goes according to plan—arrive at the moon two months later, where it will be snapping high-definition photos and videos. No word on whether the probe includes a green cheese detector.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.