ALIBABA Group's biggest shareholders have backed a partnership structure that is at the centre of a debate over where the Chinese e-commerce giant may list its shares in the most highly anticipated Internet initial public offering (IPO) since Facebook Inc's US$16 billion (RM51.63 billion) offer last year.
Alibaba, which analysts value at as much as US$120 billion, appears to have failed to convince regulators here to waive tough listing rules, potentially handing the lucrative IPO to rival United States market operators.
Founded by billionaire entrepreneur Jack Ma, Alibaba wants to find a home for its stock where its 28 partners, mainly founders and senior executives, can keep control over a majority of the board, even though they own only around 13 per cent of the company.
In the first public comments from one of those partners, executive vice-chairman Joseph Tsai defended Alibaba's corporate structure on Thursday, saying it is a "living body" intended to preserve the company's culture.
While losing such a large IPO would be a blow to the Hong Kong stock exchange - Alibaba could seek to raise as much as US$15 billion in the IPO - regulators there have stood firm in their defence of small investors and a policy of treating all shareholders alike.
"We understand Hong Kong may not want to change its tradition for one company, but we firmly believe that Hong Kong must consider what is needed in order to adapt to future trends and changes," Tsai, one of Alibaba's 18 founders in 1999, wrote in a blog post.
Alibaba yesterday received the backing of both Japanese wireless carrier SoftBank Corp and Yahoo Inc, its two largest shareholders with stakes of 36.7 and 24 per cent, respectively.
"Alibaba has built a phenomenal business and created tremendous value for its shareholders over the years," SoftBank chief executive officer Masayoshi Son said. "We are, therefore, very supportive of the Alibaba partnership structure."
In a brief statement, Jacqueline Reses, chief development officer at Yahoo and an Alibaba board member, said: "In a fast-moving technology market, it's critical that a company's leadership can continue to preserve its culture and set its strategic course for the future.
"As one of Alibaba's largest shareholders, Yahoo believes that management's efforts reflect the desire to govern the company for long-term success while also balancing the rights of shareholders." Reuters