Kara Swisher

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Alibaba’s Jack Ma at Stanford: “We Are Very Interested” in Buying the “Whole” of Yahoo

In answer to a direct question about whether his company was going to buy Yahoo at a forum at Stanford University in Silicon Valley this afternoon, Alibaba Group Chairman and CEO Jack Ma said: “We are very interested.”

Said Ma: “We are very interested in Yahoo. Our Alibaba group is important to Yahoo and Yahoo is important to us … All the serious buyers interested in Yahoo have talked to us.”

Finally, at least one crystal clear answer in the confusion at Yahoo. More importantly, it is the first time Ma has indicated that he wanted to be a principal player in any deal around Yahoo rather than an element of a buying group.

Later, in answer to a question I posed about how he was going to do that, Ma said he wanted the “whole” company, but that the effort was complicated and included a number of players.

Again, he said: “We are very, very interested.”

I also asked him if he had visited Yahoo in his trip to California, which Ma said he has not in 15 days here so far. He said he has mostly been sleeping and eating, as part of a longer-term visit to the U.S.

Ma’s declaration came as part of a lively closing keynote speech at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, where he talked about the Chinese Internet company’s growth, focusing on how China is the next great Web economy.

Talking about competitors such as eBay, which have tried to enter the huge Asian market, he joked that “eBay might be sharks in the ocean, but Alibaba is a crocodile in the Yangtze.”

Of course, given his presence in Silicon Valley, one topic of interest was whether Ma would be heading over to visit nearby Yahoo and what role he will play in the current internal debate over the company’s future in the wake of the ousting of its CEO Carol Bartz.

The disposition on Yahoo’s Asian assets, which includes 40 percent of Alibaba and a large stake in Yahoo! Japan, are critical to the current strategic review of the company, since they make up a large part of its market valuation.

In comparison, the value of its U.S. and other global assets are small.

When later asked about his experience of being involved with Yahoo, which made a very canny investment by Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang in Alibaba many years ago, Ma also said that he would do it again, but not in the same way.

The same way has to do with the level of foreign ownership, which Ma has been trying to reduce in a number of ways and which Yahoo has thus far resisted.

To answer a question about the fight between Ma and Yahoo over its Alipay fight, when Ma spun it out of Alibaba, he said the situation was tense, but that today “the problem is solved and I am half-burnt.”

He was referring to a settlement, which will require a lot of growth from the still-nascent online payment business.

Ma was asked later about the biggest misunderstanding in the U.S. about China and vice versa. “Our job is not to solve the misunderstanding,” he said. “Our job is to change ourselves to solve the problem.”

In another query about his relationship with Yahoo’s Yang, Ma called him a lifelong friend and also said he appreciated how much that meant to Alibaba’s beginnings.

“But, this is business and not personal,” Ma said about the current situation. “While we appreciate yesterday, but we are looking for a better tomorrow.”

The first line, for those not mad fans of the classic movie like me, is from “The Godfather.”

The question is, though, will Ma make Yang an offer he can’t refuse?

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