In December, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. put Pierre Poignant in charge of Lazada, the subsidiary spearheading the Chinese e-commerce giant’s high-stakes Southeast Asia expansion. The choice was out of character for several reasons. Poignant is a professional manager—a type Alibaba supremo Jack Ma has long disdained. He was part of Lazada’s founding team, also typically disqualifying. Finally, as a Frenchman, he’s one of a very few Westerners to have cracked Alibaba’s upper echelons.