Alibaba’s SCMP Poaches Former Expedia, AOL Exec for New CEO

The South China Morning Post has picked Expedia’s Asian head Catherine So to become its new chief executive officer, putting a technology and media veteran at the helm of the news outlet owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

So replaces Gary Liu, who will leave in July to oversee crypto-spinoff Artifacts Lab, the SCMP said in a statement. The Harvard-educated So, who’s also worked at Groupon, Star TV and AOL Time Warner, will focus on growing the newspaper’s global readership and expanding its commercial opportunities.

She is the second woman to lead the storied organization after Kuok Hui Kwong, daughter of former owner Robert Kuok, who held the role between 2008 and 2012. So’s appointment means the top two leadership positions at the paper are both filled by women, with Tammy Tam as Editor in Chief.

So, a Hong Kong native, joins the paper at an uncertain time. In 2021, China’s top economic planner unveiled a proposal that aims to bar private capital from news operations. The restrictions — which would apply only to domestic investments — came months after concerns were expressed in Beijing about Alibaba’s controversial handling of a scandal involving one of its executives.

Bauhinia Culture (Hong Kong) Holdings Ltd. was interested in adding the city’s most prominent English-language newspaper to its stable of media properties, Bloomberg News has reported. Alibaba representatives have denied the company is for sale.

Founded in 1903, SCMP was once one of the most profitable newspapers in the world, boosted by a large classified job-advertisement section. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch acquired control of the paper in 1986 before selling his stake to Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok in 1993. The paper changed hands again in 2015 when Alibaba agreed to buy it for about HK$2 billion ($256 million).

The organization has come under fire in recent years for allegedly avoiding sensitive issues in coverage involving Beijing. –Bloomberg