Alibaba's new comms head Jennifer Kuperman on guiding the company's future

Kuperman shared her goals and duties in her new role as the company continues on what she calls its "natural evolution."

Jennifer Kuperman
Jennifer Kuperman

E-commerce giant Alibaba has selected Jennifer Kuperman as its new comms head, following Jim Wilkinson’s departure. Wilkinson, who is exiting to start his own comms firm, will remain at Alibaba for at least two months to aid with the transition.

For the past two years, Kuperman has helped to lead Alibaba’s global comms strategy and execution. In her new role as SVP and head of international corporate affairs, she will report to Alibaba executive vice chairman Joe Tsai and work closely with senior leadership, including CEO Daniel Zhang and president Michael Evans, to expand Alibaba’s business globally.

Kuperman, a veteran of Visa and Accenture, sat down with PRWeek on Tuesday to detail her goals and duties in her new role as the company continues on what she calls its "natural evolution." 

What's your top priority in the new job?
It’s a unique position in that Alibaba is a Chinese-based company and we are having to do all the work to help it become a global company since we went public 18 months ago.

It’s my job to build Alibaba’s profile outside of China, given we’ve spent the first 16 years of the company’s successful life inside of China. This involves helping stakeholders outside China really understand who we are, what we do, and how we help stimulate economic growth. Overall, I will be building an understanding for our company so it can continue to grow.

As a comms pro in a global company, does your role include dealing with global regulations at all?
Alibaba is the biggest e-commerce company in the world. For the first 16 years of its life we helped grow entrepreneurial businesses by helping [Chinese consumers] get the things they want. People want to say, "Alibaba is the eBay of China," but it’s much broader than that. It’s more like the Google, the Amazon, the Fandango — you name it. As we grow outside China, we’re looking at how we help businesses get access to the Chinese consumer. How do we help retailers, the media, investors, regulators, and more in all these different countries get access to China?

As you move nearly two years on from Alibaba's IPO, how has the comms strategy changed?
Our North Star hasn’t changed. We’re still nurturing the education of Alibaba. We’re on a natural evolution. We’ve partnered with government entities, agricultural associations, businesses, and others. So the natural step is to ask: How do we continue to do that?

Prior to Alibaba, you were SVP and head of corporate marketing and reputation at Visa. Are there any similarities between that position and your role at Alibaba?
There are a lot more than I thought before I came. There were six independent entities of Visa when I joined Visa U.S.A. On my watch, there was a bringing together of all those six entities into a global company, and I had to help the world understand what the public company Visa is and how it operates and why it’s good, which is similar to the mandate of Alibaba.

What challenges does Alibaba face as a company based in China?
It’s actually the most interesting part of the job. Most of the world outside of China doesn’t understand it well. And to understand Alibaba you have to understand China, how it works, and consumer behavior. Part of the job is demystifying that a little bit.

You will have a two-month transition period for training, before Wilkinson departs.
It’ll be about six to eight weeks. [Wilkinson] is leaving to start his own comms firm and Alibaba will be one of his first clients. Jim was a great partner-in-crime, he’s amazing, and his parting will be bittersweet.

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