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Alibaba’s Ma Said to Let Customers Ring IPO Opening Bell at NYSE

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA)’s $21.8 billion initial public offering, the biggest ever in the U.S., will culminate today with the ringing of the bell on the New York Stock Exchange -- except none of its executives, including Chairman Jack Ma, will be up there.

The e-commerce company opted instead to have eight customers, from a Washington state cherry farmer to a Chinese Olympian-turned-bracelet-seller, stand on the podium to open the U.S. markets for trading today, according to a person familiar with the matter. While the customers had been invited to the NYSE for Alibaba’s first day of trading, they weren’t informed of this role until yesterday, said the person, who asked not to be named because the details are still private.

The decision to allow Alibaba clients to ring the opening bell is in tune with the letter Ma included in the IPO prospectus, where he said: “Customers first, employees second, and shareholders third.” Ma made the decision several weeks ago not to ring the bell, an event that many executives see as the crowning moment of the IPO process, and will watch the ceremony from the floor of the NYSE, the person said.

Alibaba and backers including Yahoo! Inc. sold 320.1 million shares for $68 each, raising $21.8 billion in the IPO.