Jack Ma, the name synonymous with the Chinese startup ecosystem and the man who spearheaded the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba for nearly two decades has announced retirement in exactly one year from now.
In his career, Jack Ma became the face of the Chinese business world, with his charismatic smile and subtle demeanor and was among the very few to go up on international stages and motivate others through his journey from being an English lecturer to co-founding a multibillion-dollar company.
He will retire on Sept 10th, 2019 which also marks his 55th birthday. He is to be succeeded by 46-year old chief executive officer Daniel Zhang who’s been with Alibaba for the past 13 years. The next twelve months will be dedicated to ensuring a smooth transition of the chairmanship to Zhang. He will remain a lifetime member of the 36-person Alibaba partnership, the torchbearer for corporate culture and mission, and a shareholder in the group.
Ma said the handover, which coincides with Alibaba’s 20th anniversary, had been a decade in the planning and has helped shape Alibaba into the e-commerce giant it is today.
“I have put a lot of thought and preparation into this succession plan for ten years,” Ma wrote in a letter to Alibaba customers and shareholders. “This transition demonstrates that Alibaba has stepped up to the next level of corporate governance.”
“Starting the process of passing the Alibaba torch to Daniel and his team is the right decision at the right time because I know from working with them that they are ready,” Ma said in the statement. “Since he took over as CEO, he has demonstrated his superb talent, business acumen and determined leadership.”
In early 1995, when Ma became aware of the power of the internet and understood the exposure it can give to a company, he wanted to facilitate this opportunity to small and medium enterprises in China, which gave birth to “Chinapage” a site which listed various Chinese businesses and their products. It didn’t fare well and ultimately Ma departed from the company.
After being knocked back by US venture capitalists in 1999, learning from the fiasco of ‘Chinapage’, cash-strapped Chinese entrepreneur Ma persuaded friends to give him $60,000 to start an e-commerce firm called Alibaba. It has since moved beyond e-commerce into cloud computing, digital payments, healthcare, Hollywood movies and backing China’s startups. Its share price has more than doubled since its record 2014 initial public offering, climbing to a market value of about $420 billion.
Ma was not explicit about his plans as he announced he will step back from Alibaba, but he indicated his intentions to focus more time on philanthropy in education and encouraging leadership among entrepreneurs, young people, and women.