Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, China's richest man, to retire

Dwayne Harmon
September 8, 2018

Ma was born in September 1964 to Chinese traditional musician-storytellers living in Hangzhou, an ancient capital that has become a global hi-tech hub and bastion of entrepreneurship, in part because of Alibaba's base there.

Ma stepped down as Alibaba's CEO in 2013 but retained a role as executive chairman and a stake in the company.

In an exclusive New York Times interview, the Chinese billionaire said on Friday that his retirement was not the end of an era but "the beginning of an era".

Alibaba has not said who will succeed Ma as executive chairman; he will remain on its board of directors. When Bloomberg asked whether it could happen this year, Ma shrugged and said: "You'll know very soon". Ma is a man "who deftly maneuvered through the discontinuities and barriers in China to create one of the greatest companies in the world", as Tim Draper, founder of Draper Associates, DFJ, and Draper University said. He is a cult figure in China's internet industry and has attracted a big following among entrepreneurs and in pop culture.

Although he was no longer in charge of the day-to-day running of the company, Ma continued to be Alibaba's guiding hand and its most recognized face.

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Ma's Bloomberg interview came as shares of China's second-largest e-commerce company, JD.com, plummeted as its CEO Li Qiangdong was arrested in the U.S. over an accusation of rape. On one hand, Chinese tech companies are facing increased scrutiny by the Chinese government led by President Xi Jinping, on the other hand, the tech firms are caught in an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China. Alibaba has more than 86,000 employees on staff. Monday is his 54th birthday, and the Chinese holiday Teacher's Day, making the announcement particularly timely.

Liu was arrested and then released without charge in the USA city of Minneapolis last week. Numerous co-founders are still around, and professionals who joined the company later are now in charge. I've prepared a Jack Ma Foundation. The company's annual revenue totals about 250 billion yuan, or $40 billion.

Ma, who worked as an English teacher before founding Alibaba, also told Bloomberg: "I think some day, and soon, I'll go back to teaching".

The move mirrors that of Bill Gates before he left Microsoft.

In an interview earlier this week, Ma had signaled that he was thinking about focusing more on philanthropy.

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