In a surprising move, China’s richest man, Jack Ma, has revealed plans to step down as the Executive Chairman of e-commerce giant Alibaba on Monday to pursue philanthropy in education, paving the way for a change of guard for the US$ 420 billion Internet company that he co-founded.
Ma will turn 54 on Monday, which is also a holiday in China and known as Teacher’s Day.
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”.
“I love education,” the Chinese billionaire said, adding that he would be spending more of his time and fortune focused on education.
A former English teacher, Ma co-founded Alibaba with 17 others out of his apartment in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in 1999.
He built it into one of the world’s most consequential e-commerce and digital payments companies, transforming how Chinese people shop and pay for things which fuelled his net worth to more than US$ 40 billion, making him China’s richest man.
Ma is revered by many Chinese, some of whom have put his portrait in their homes to worship in the same way that they worship the God of Wealth.
Ma will remain on Alibaba’s board of directors and continue to mentor the company’s management.
The retirement makes Ma one of the first founders among a generation of prominent Chinese Internet entrepreneurs to step down from their companies.
Firms including Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and JD.com have flourished in recent years, growing to nearly rival American Internet behemoths like Amazon and Google in their size, scope and ambition.
Last month, Alibaba reported a 60 percent increase in quarterly sales, even as profits fell.
The company’s annual revenue totals about 250 billion yuan (US$ 40 billion).
Alibaba has also changed the way people work in China. Millions of people now run their own shops selling goods on its Taobao ecommerce platform or stream their own videos on its entertainment platforms, The Financial Times reported.
Taobao is estimated to have created almost 37 million jobs in China, according to a study last year by Renmin University’s School of Labour and Human Resources, the report added.
For Chinese tycoons to step aside in their 50s is rare; they usually remain at the top of their organisations for many years.
In an interview earlier this week, Ma had signaled that he was thinking about focusing more on philanthropy. He cited the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates as an example.
Ma is retiring as at a time when the China is embroiled in an escalating trade war with the US and the Chinese economy is facing slowing growth and increasing debt, The New York Times report said.