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阿里巴巴首席执行官为何必须离职

阿里巴巴首席执行官为何必须离职

Bill Powell 2011年02月24日
阿里巴巴表示,此次欺诈用户事件对投资者的财务影响是轻微的。但公司高层仍毅然选择了甘受损失、承担责任以挽救公司无比看重的声誉。

    近几年来,互联网公司阿里巴巴-淘宝已成为全球最知名的中国公司之一。这要归功于公司自身的成功及其自负又魅力超凡的创始人兼总裁马云。是他在1999年创建了这家在线商贸公司。2007年,其B2B平台阿里巴巴公司赴香港证交所上市并募得17亿美元。在当时,这是互联网公司有史以来规模第二大的首次公开募股(IPO),仅次于谷歌。而其电子商务公司淘宝则与eBay展开苦斗,并在几年前成功地将这一全球巨头逐出中国市场。

    然而日前,阿里巴巴在前进道路上首次遭遇重大公关危机:该公司称,在过去两年间,2,326家大宗卖家在近百名阿里巴巴员工的协助下欺诈客户。这些卖家向公司交付一定费用,以在网站上售卖货物,并被称为“金牌供应商”。马云表示,这些卖家是有组织的“诈骗分子”。因为该丑闻,阿里巴巴首席执行官卫哲与其副手——首席运营官李旭晖于日前双双引咎辞职。阿里巴巴公司强调,他们二人都并未卷入此次欺诈事件。不过两人都毅然承担了相应责任(这是日本式公司责任在中国的体现)。

    卫哲今年40岁。2006年他加盟阿里巴巴并领导了首次公开募股成功进行。他还协助马云落实了阿里巴巴的一大愿景,即使之成为国外客户与中国中小型公司进行交易的终点站。毫无疑问,在公众眼中,马云已经像史蒂夫·乔布斯或比尔·盖茨一样,与自己的公司血肉相连。(其公司一年一度的网商大会(Alifest),实际上成了阿里巴巴和淘宝用户的布道大会,而瘦骨嶙峋的马云则是这些用户的精神领袖。)卫哲则是他完美无缺的副手,一直成功塑造着一幅淡定自若、实力非凡的形象。

    阿里巴巴国际公司事务副总裁约翰·斯比利奇表示,从营业收入的角度看,此次欺诈规模为每笔约1,200美元,共计280万美元,因此是“微不足道的”。对雅虎公司而言,这可能是这一丑闻中唯一的亮点。目前雅虎在中国的运营由阿里巴巴的母公司负责,该公司拥有其39%的股份。而阿里巴巴集团前日在香港股市的股价下跌超过8%。当然,此次丑闻成为阿里巴巴的重大事件——以及该公司如此不遗余力将其消灭于萌芽状态的——的原因,正在于其销售队伍的内部人员显然共同参与了欺诈。据公司发布在其旗下一家网站上的对本次丑闻的描述,阿里巴巴销售人员不管是出于有意还是无意,都“协助有组织的中国犯罪团伙在阿里巴巴网站上建立了‘金牌供应商’店面,以便其为了欺诈购买者而以合法经营的面貌出现”。

    在致员工的一封电子邮件中,马云做了更深入的剖析。他表示,公司内部审核团队成员“有意纵容欺诈者成为(金牌供应商)以便自己能‘获得更高业绩’并收受佣金”。(目前尚不清楚是否有员工从欺诈者处获取酬劳。)

    当然,电子商务网站上形形色色的欺诈屡见不鲜。Alibaba168.com是一个买家和卖家交流购销经验的网站。日前,就在这个网站上爆出了一起欺诈事件。一位远在中国西部省份新疆的阿里巴巴客户付了12,000元(约1,846美元)从一个供应商那儿买一批核桃,想将这批货转手卖掉赚上一笔。但他没有通过支付宝(与Paypal类似)转账,而是直接把钱汇给了卖家。结果他血本无归。

    阿里巴巴表示,导致卫哲辞职的众多案例都是“销售”低价消费电子产品。欺诈行为的比例“似乎在一般电子商务网站的风险范围之内”。然而,对阿里巴巴公司而言,问题在于所有被骗的客户都位于中国境外,而按Spelich所说,该公司的“存在理由”,即其创建之使命,是将中国卖家与国外买家连结起来(阿里巴巴目前正努力吸引印度和其他地方的卖家使用其网站)。

    几年前我第一次采访马云时,他以惯有的激昂语调谈起一个问题。在他看来这是电子商务能否在中国,尤其是在阿里巴巴-淘宝上蓬勃发展的关键问题:“诚信”。这意味着,顾客必须相信他们准备在线购买的商品的质量,而更重要的是,他们必须相信,他们不会被那些用互联网实施诈骗的匿名卖家所骗。而对所有这些,我们只能说,在中国,建立商业道德仍然任重而道远。

    现在事实表明,欺诈活动已经在马云的一批员工的协助下进行了整整两年之久(再重申一遍,阿里巴巴共有5,000名销售,公司表示,约100人卷入了此次欺诈事件。)这就解释了,虽然单从数量上看,这似乎只是一场小规模欺诈,但公司为何对此事件反应如此强烈,并且公开表态。正如卫哲日前让人震惊的辞职行动所表明的,此事其实非同小可。因为,马云从一开始就深知,如果客户不再信任阿里巴巴,阿里巴巴也就不会再有大量客户了。

    译者:清远

    For several years now, the internet firm Alibaba-Taobao has been one of the most prominent Chinese companies on the planet—thanks both to its success and to its brash, charismatic founder and chairman, "Jack O' (Yun) Ma, who started the online commerce company in 1999. Its business-to-business platform, Alibaba.com, went public on Hong Kong's stock exchange in 2007 and raised $1.7 billion—at the time the second biggest internet IPO ever, behind only Google (GOOG). Its online consumer sales company, Taobao, went mano-a-mano with eBay (EBAY) and effectively ran the global giant out of China a few years ago.

    Yesterday for the first time, Alibaba hit a big public bump in the road: It reported that 2,326 high volume sellers who pay a fee to the company to pedal their wares on the site – "gold suppliers," as they're called—defrauded customers over the course of two years, with the assistance of nearly 100 Alibaba.com employees. Ma said the sellers were organized "fraudsters." As a result of the scandal, Alibaba.com CEO David Wei, and his deputy, COO Elvis Lee, both resigned yesterday. Neither, the company stressed, are implicated in the fraud; both were falling on their swords to accept responsibility. (Japanese style corporate accountability comes to China.)

    Wei, 40, had joined Alibaba in 2006 and oversaw the successful IPO. He also helped Ma execute the vision of Alibaba.com as a destination for customers outside of China to buy from small and medium-sized companies operating inside the country. Ma, to be sure, has become as publicly associated with his company as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates have with theirs. (His company's annual "Alifest" is practically a revival meeting for Alibaba-Taobao users, and the waif-like Ma is their inspirational leader.) But Wei was his polished deputy, and he unfailingly projected an image of calm competence.

    The scale of the fraud amounted to about $1,200 per incident, totaling around $2.8 million, and thus is "immaterial", as John Spelich, vice president for international corporate affairs says, from an earnings standpoint. That is probably the only bright spot in this scandal for Yahoo (YHOO), whose Chinese operations are run by Alibaba's parent company, of which it owns 39%. The Alibaba group's stock price in Hong Kong today fell more than 8%. Of course, what makes the scandal a huge deal for Alibaba—and why the company has gone to extraordinary lengths to snuff it out—is the apparent involvement of insiders on the sales staff in perpetrating the fraud. Either willfully or out of negligence, the Alibaba sales people "helped organized Chinese criminal rings establish Alibaba.com 'Gold Supplier' storefronts so they could pose as legitimate businesses in order to defraud buyers," according to an account of the scandal the company published on a website it runs.

    In an e mail to employees, Ma went further. He said the company's internal investigation team members "knowingly allowed fraudsters to become [Gold Suppliers] so that they could 'make their numbers' and receive commission income.'' (It is unclear as of yet if any of the insiders received payments from any of the fraudsters.)

    Garden variety fraud on e-commerce sites is not uncommon, of course. Yesterday, on a web site called Alibaba168.com, where buyers and sellers exchange information about their experiences on the site, there was an account of an Alibaba customer in Xinjiang, in far western China, who paid 12,000 renminbi (about $1,846) to buy a bunch of walnuts from a supplier, which he then hoped to turn around and resell at a profit. The buyer did not execute his transaction via Alipay, Alibaba's Paypal equivalent, instead forwarding the money direct to the seller. He was ripped off.

    Alibaba says the scope of the fraudulent activity in the cases that led to Wei's resignation, which in many cases involved the "sale" of low priced consumer electronics products, "appeared to be within the risk range for e-commerce sites in general." The problem for the company is that all of the customers defrauded were outside of China, and, as Spelich says, the company's "raison d'être," its founding mission, was to link Chinese sellers with buyers abroad (Alibaba is now trying aggressively to lure sellers in India and elsewhere to use the site.)

    Several years ago, the first time I ever interviewed Ma, he spoke in his usual passionate tone on the one issue he saw as key to whether e-commerce would take off in China in general, and at Alibaba-Taobao in particular: "Trust," he said. Meaning, customers had to trust in the quality of goods they were going to be able to buy online, but more importantly, they had to be confident they were not going to be fleeced by faceless sellers using the Internet to perpetrate their fraud. And all this in a country where, shall we say, business ethics are still something of a work in progress.

    It turns out that fleecing is precisely what was happening for two years—with the aid of a handful of Ma's own employees. (Again, Alibaba employs 5000 sales people, and around 100 were involved in the fraud, the company says.) Which explains why the company has reacted so strongly, and so publicly, to an episode that, by the numbers, seems to be but a minor scandal. As Wei's stunning resignation yesterday demonstrates, it's not. As Jack Ma understood from the beginning, if the customers can't trust Alibaba, then Alibaba isn't going have many customers.

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