BEIJING/SHANGHAI - Unlike his charismatic boss, Jack Ma, Alibaba chief executive Daniel Zhang isn't usually one to grab the limelight, let alone make kung fu movies with superstars or dance in public.
Little is known outside the company about Zhang, a soft-spoken accountant who goes under the epithet "Xiaoyaozi" at work - the name of a character from a Chinese martial arts novel literally meaning the "free and unfettered one."
But he will have to step out from the shadows after Ma said he would leave his role as chairman in September 2019, handing Zhang the reins of his $420 billion (S$580 billion) tech giant.
"We don't know much about (Zhang) even though he's been CEO for a while, because he's by nature a very low-key person, low profile. He's happy to not be in the limelight," said Duncan Clark, managing director at Beijing tech advisory BDA and author of "Alibaba: The House that Jack Built".
The handover of power, the first such transition for any of China's major tech firms, will see Zhang, 46, elevated to the top of a sprawling empire that spans e-commerce, payments, fast food delivery and brick-and-mortar retail.
Zhang, who leads Alibaba's investor calls with polish stemming from his years at global auditors Arthur Andersen and PricewaterhouseCoopers, has been CEO since 2015.