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Alibaba Bets on Frenchman to Lead High-Stakes Southeast Asia Expansion

Pierre Poignant will have to vanquish well-funded regional rivals if he is to achieve Alibaba’s vision of becoming a global player.

Pierre Poignant

Pierre Poignant

Photographer: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg
Updated on

In December, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. put Pierre Poignant in charge of Lazada, the subsidiary spearheading the Chinese e-commerce giant’s high-stakes Southeast Asia expansion. The choice was out of character for several reasons. Poignant is a professional manager—a type Alibaba supremo Jack Ma has long disdained. He was part of Lazada’s founding team, also typically disqualifying. Finally, as a Frenchman, he’s one of a very few Westerners to have cracked Alibaba’s upper echelons.

Poignant, 40, takes charge at a fraught moment for Lazada. Since being absorbed by Alibaba, the Singapore company has been roiled by management turmoil—Poignant is the third CEO in nine months—even as it fights a multi-front war against well-funded, fleet-footed rivals. In Indonesia, by far the region’s biggest and most promising market, Lazada has fallen behind homegrown players.