Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is implementing a hiring freeze, saying it grew too quickly over the past year. “Alibaba has really developed too quickly,” said Jack Ma, the company’s executive chairman. “This year our entire group headcount will not go up by one person.”
Ma told employees about the freeze on April 23, according to Reuters, which obtained a transcript of Ma’s speech via Laiwang, a messaging app owned by Alibaba.
In the wake of Ma’s message, Alibaba shares were trading at an all-time low. Early this morning, the stock fell by more than 3 percent to $77.77 a share. Since then, it has rebounded a bit to $78.95 a share, but continues to trade down 2 percent. Today’s range is still above its initial IPO price of $68 a share, but is far below its high of $120 a share.
On Thursday, the company will report quarterly earnings, its third report since going public in September. Presumably, at that time, it will provide more details on whether the headcount freeze is just a precaution or a sign of deeper financial uncertainty.
Indeed, the company has grown quickly over the past year.
At the end of 2014, Alibaba had 34,081 employees, up 63 percent from a year earlier, Reuters reports. As part of its expansion, it started recruiting employees in Seattle for a stealthy Seattle engineering office. It is unknown if that office will be affected by the freeze.
In the speech, Ma said even though it won’t be hiring at such a rapid rate, it will replace employees who leave. He said headcount for a company with gross merchandise volume of $1.6 trillion (10 trillion yuan) should be below 50,000, and that a headcount of “over 30,000” was enough for now. For the year ended 2014, Alibaba’s gross merchandise volume totaled 2.3 trillion yuan.
Amazon has also been on a hiring spree. At the end of the first quarter, it said it had 165,000 employees, a 32 percent increase year-over-year. However, the two e-commerce companies are difficult to compare. While Alibaba’s business is larger than Amazon’s, Amazon operates its own warehouses, where it employees thousands of workers. Alibaba does not own merchandise or warehouses, but instead operates a marketplace, where third-party retailers sell products directly to customers.