The move follows a capital reorganization putting separately listed Alibaba Pictures back under majority control of the Alibaba parent company.
Zhang’s departure from the board was announced Tuesday evening without fanfare in a regulatory filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that noted completion of a share issue announced in November. Also leaving is Yu Yongfu, who was briefly chairman and CEO of the unit until the arrival of Fan Luyuan as chief executive and chairman in late 2017. Two non-executive directors are also leaving.
Zhang’s resignation leaves Alibaba Pictures without a prominent board-level figure who has a track record in film. She was named president in an internal promotion in August 2015 soon after the company made its first Hollywood investment, a minority stake in Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.” She was responsible for Alibaba Pictures’ overseas business, which the company wanted to grow through investments and acquisitions. In recent days, Alibaba Pictures has been touting its investment in Oscar-winner “Green Book,” which is performing better than expected at the Chinese box office.
Zhang, a Harvard MBA graduate, took credit for brokering Alibaba’s investment in Steven Spielberg’s Amblin partners. She was also prominent in securing Harry Potter producer David Heyman to oversee development of a possible franchise based on young adult novel series “Warriors.”
Alibaba Pictures told Variety that it considered the move a “regular reshuffle of board membership.” A spokesman said: “Zhang will remain president to lead international business.”
Zhang joined the Alibaba Group in 2008 after having worked at companies including GE, Bain & Co., NBCUniversal and News Corp.
Alibaba Pictures’ very modest share issue – with all the shares being acquired by Alibaba through a subscription process – allowed Alibaba to increase its stake from 49% to 51% and return Alibaba Pictures to subsidiary status. An Alibaba spokesman explained at the time that the move was intended to restore majority control, which Alibaba had lost through earlier capital-raising exercises.
Despite its share listings in Hong Kong and Singapore, Alibaba Pictures is operated almost seamlessly as part of Alibaba’s wider Digital Media Entertainment Group. This includes streaming video platform Youku, mobile browser UCWeb, Alibaba Music and event ticketing agency Damai. Alibaba Pictures operates in multiple sectors: content investment and production; online marketing and distribution, including the Taopiaopiao cinema ticketing business; and entertainment e-commerce.
Yu’s departure from Alibaba Pictures appears to be in line with a group strategy that favors the hiring of digital technocrats and financial executives across Alibaba’s wider Digital Media Entertainment Group.