On Wall Street, it just may have been the hottest ticket in town. On Monday at noon, stretch limos pulled up in front of New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to drop off top investors, who had to navigate past headset-toting doormen and take a private elevator to get access to an exclusive lunch in several 18th-floor suites.
Welcome to the first day of Alibaba’s initial public offering road show. Close to 900 investors from hedge funds and mutual funds waited in a line that snaked through the hotel’s lobby and into its basement to get into the presentation, where they ate boxed lunches while the company’s top executives pitched them on what could be the biggest IPO in history.
At the start of the presentation, Brady Dougan, the CEO of Credit Suisse Group (CSGN.VX), one of the six banks underwriting the IPO, briefly spoke and introduced Alibaba's management team, including Founder and CEO Jack Ma, Chief Financial Officer Maggie Wu and Vice Chairman Joseph Tsai. One wall featured a colorful illustration of the company's various properties, accessed through an ancient Chinese gate labeled "Alibaba Group."
After the company's presentation, managers and underwriters answered audience questions. Several of the investors left impressed with the company’s ambitions and achievements but they craved more details and harbored some concerns about its corporate governance.
“They were a little vague,” said one mutual fund executive, who preferred not to be identified. “They talked in platitudes about their interest in ‘international opportunities’ and ‘taking stakes where it makes sense.’ I wanted more info.” Though he noted that Alibaba is eager to cater to Western consumers and offers certain advantages over Western competitors through some of its distribution deals with luxury retailers
Other investors also wanted more details about Ma’s future role and the company’s ability to manage its growth. Among the risks are Alibaba's governance structure, which allows 30 people to nominate a majority of the board, reports Bloomberg News.
The Chinese e-commerce giant, which has been described as a behemoth that combines eBay Inc. (NASDAQ:EBAY) and Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), is expected to raise more than $20 billion. If things go as expected, its market valuation could hit a record $200 billion, almost twice the $104 billion valuation of Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) at its May 2012 IPO. Alibaba set its initial offering price at between $60 and $66, according to its updated IPO filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and will begin trading later in September on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker “BABA.”
Five hours before the lunch, Alibaba made a separate presentation at Citigroup's offices in downtown Manhattan to about 300 salespeople for the underwriting banks, reported Reuters.
The road show, which will end on Sept. 18, travels to Boston, Baltimore, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles before heading to Hong Kong, Singapore, London and possibly the Middle East.