A standing-room-only crowd filled a hotel ballroom in Bellevue on Tuesday evening to hear from some of Alibaba’s top executives — illustrating the intense interest in the IPO-bound technology company that is essentially the Amazon, eBay, Google, and PayPal of China, all wrapped into one.
Alibaba executives said they weren’t there to recruit, but many of the people in the audience might have had different ideas. The event was a few miles down the road from Microsoft, and just across the lake from Amazon. Employees of both companies were well-represented in the largely Chinese-speaking crowd.
The company’s second event in the Seattle region will be held on Wednesday at the University of Washington. Details and registration are available here.
In many ways, the Tuesday event did feel like a recruiting pitch. Trudy Dai, Alibaba co-founder and chief people officer, opened by talking about Alibaba’s employee-centric culture and its way of doing business, telling stories about the early days with Alibaba’s legendary founder (and now executive chairman), Jack Ma.
She explained that the company took some of its early cues from Microsoft’s organization, promoting people from “manager” to “director” when their direct reports hit a certain threshold, for example. When she said Alibaba also adopted its own version of Microsoft’s employee ratings, someone in the crowd pointed out that Microsoft is scrapping that program. Dai got a big laugh when she said Alibaba would be doing the same.
In case the crowd needed to be reminded of Alibaba’s status as an e-commerce powerhouse, a handout touted the record-setting sales of more than $5.7 billion recorded by the company’s platforms on Nov. 11, also known as “Singles Day” — eclipsing its U.S. counterpart, Cyber Monday.
Wang Jian, Alibaba’s chief technology officer, gave a detailed overview of the company’s technology footprint, from its e-commerce operations to its cloud-computing infrastructure. The use of data is key to the company’s future, he said — citing, as an example, how data guides Alibaba’s financing program for small vendors.
“Data is our biggest asset,” he told the crowd, according to a translator.
Prior to the event, Wang said in an interview that the purpose of the trip actually isn’t to recruit new employees, but rather to connect Alibaba and its team to more people outside of China — giving them a different perspective, particularly as the company becomes more global. Alibaba started the tradition with an event in Silicon Valley last fall.
That said, Wang didn’t rule out the possibility of Alibaba opening an office in the Pacific Northwest. A former Microsoft Research executive, he said he hadn’t been to the Seattle region for four or five years, and was surprised by the increase in tech activity here in the meantime. “I can feel the energy of the startups here,” he said.
The event in Bellevue was hosted by the group Entrepreneurs & Experts in Seattle.