HONG KONG — Alibaba’s co-founder and government chairman, Jack Ma, mentioned he deliberate to step down from the Chinese language e-commerce large on Monday to pursue philanthropy in schooling, a altering of the guard for the $420 billion web firm.
A former English instructor, Mr. Ma began Alibaba in 1999 and constructed it into one of many world’s most consequential e-commerce and digital funds corporations, reworking how Chinese language folks store and pay for issues. That fueled his web value to greater than $40 billion, making him China’s richest man. He’s revered by many Chinese language, a few of whom have put his portrait of their properties to worship in the identical approach that they worship the God of Wealth.
Mr. Ma is retiring as China’s enterprise surroundings has soured, with Beijing and state-owned enterprises more and more enjoying extra interventionist roles with corporations. Below President Xi Jinping, China’s web business has grown and change into extra necessary, prompting the federal government to tighten its leash. The Chinese language economic system can be going through slowing development and rising debt, and the nation is embroiled in an escalating commerce warfare with the USA.
“He’s an emblem of the well being of China’s non-public sector and the way excessive they will fly whether or not he likes it or not,” Duncan Clark, writer of the e-book “Alibaba: The Home Jack Ma Constructed,” mentioned of Mr. Ma. “His retirement shall be interpreted as frustration or concern whether or not he likes it or not.”
In an interview, Mr. Ma mentioned his retirement isn’t the tip of an period however “the start of an period.” He mentioned he can be spending extra of his time and fortune centered on schooling. “I really like schooling,” he mentioned.
Mr. Ma will stay on Alibaba’s board of administrators and proceed to mentor the corporate’s administration. Mr. Ma turns 54 on Monday, which can be a vacation in China often known as Instructor’s Day.
The retirement makes Mr. Ma one of many first founders amongst a era of distinguished Chinese language web entrepreneurs to step down from their corporations. Corporations together with Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and JD.com have flourished in recent times, rising to almost rival American web behemoths like Amazon and Google of their measurement, scope and ambition. For Chinese language tycoons to step apart of their 50s is uncommon; they often stay on the high of their organizations for a few years.
The departure of Mr. Ma is prone to jolt China’s web business, which has been reeling from the arrest last weekend of Liu Qiangdong, the billionaire founder of the online retailer JD.com. Mr. Liu, who goes by Richard Liu in the English-speaking world, was arrested on a rape allegation in Minneapolis during a business trip. He was released and has since returned to Beijing, where JD.com is based.
For Alibaba, Mr. Ma’s retirement completes a transition of power to other executives. Mr. Ma stepped down as Alibaba’s chief executive in 2013; the company’s current chief executive is Daniel Zhang, who is a candidate to succeed Mr. Ma. Yet Mr. Ma had remained active as the face of the e-commerce firm, as well as an architect of its long-term strategy. He owns a 6.4 percent stake of Alibaba, according to securities filings, but has considerably more sway over the company thanks to its complicated legal structure.
Mr. Ma, a natural salesman and charismatic leader, co-founded Alibaba with 17 others — some of them his students — out of his apartment in Hangzhou in eastern Zhejiang province in 1999.
Alibaba started as an online marketplace for businesses to sell their products to other businesses. But it did not take off until it began the Taobao marketplace in 2003, which merchants used to sell goods directly to consumers. Alibaba later rolled out Alipay, an online payment service, to facilitate transactions in a country where few people had credit cards. Alipay later became Ant Financial, the financial subsidiary that Mr. Ma also controls.
Today, Alibaba’s empire encompasses e-commerce, online banking, cloud computing, digital media and entertainment — and even a corporate messaging service similar to Slack. The company owns or holds stakes in some of China’s most important media assets, including the Twitter-like social media site Weibo and the Hong Kong-based English-language newspaper The South China Morning Post.
Among China’s biggest companies, Alibaba is viewed as one of the firms with the deepest ranks of management talent. Many of the co-founders are still around, and professionals who joined the company later are now in charge.
While Alibaba has become dominant in China, it has faced a tougher time expanding internationally. The company has increased its presence outside of China by investing in e-commerce and online finance companies in India and Southeast Asia. But its efforts to muscle into the United States largely have not been successful.
Even after Mr. Ma met with President-elect Donald J. Trump in early 2017 and promised to bring one million jobs to the United States, the federal government rejected Ant Financial’s bid to acquire the American money transfer company MoneyGram this year over national security concerns.
As Beijing has increased its involvement in the private sector, Mr. Ma has shifted what he has said about China’s government. He used to say that businesses should be in love with the government but never get married to each other, indicating that an arms-length relationship was preferred.
At a conference last November, Mr. Ma was more positive. “There’s no country like China in the world,” he said. “With political stability, social safety and 6 percent-plus economic growth, we have the best business environment.”
As Alibaba has flourished, Mr. Ma has talked many times about how he did not want to spend his whole life at the company, saying he would retire one day and go back to teaching.
In 2014, he created the Jack Ma Foundation, which has worked to improve education in rural China. Mr. Ma’s Weibo social media handle is “spokesman for village teachers — Jack Ma.” Within Alibaba, he is known and referred to as “Teacher Ma.”
Mr. Ma said he could never be as rich as Mr. Gates — but that he could retire earlier than Mr. Gates. Mr. Gates stepped down as Microsoft’s chairman in 2014, at the age of 58.
Follow Li Yuan on Twitter: @LiYuan6.
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