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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Alibaba chairman Jack Ma plans to retire on Monday marking 'new era'

Co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant to focus on education philanthropy

Jack Ma, the co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba, plans to retire from the company on Monday. AP
Jack Ma, the co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba, plans to retire from the company on Monday. AP

Jack Ma, the billionaire co-founder and executive chairman of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, said his retirement on Monday will mark the start of a new era, as he revealed plans to stand down and pursue projects in education and philanthropy.

Mr Ma, a former English teacher, told The New York Times he will retire from the company on Monday. His retirement is not the end of an era but “the beginning of an era”, the newspaper quoted him as saying.

The Chinese entrepreneur, one of China’s best known corporate leaders, will remain on the company’s board of directors and continue to mentor its senior management team. The National has contacted Alibaba for further comment.

Mr Ma helped found Alibaba in 1999 and built it into one of the world’s most powerful e-commerce and digital payments companies, with a market capitalisation of almost $420 billion (Dh1.5 trillion).

The company transformed how China’s 1.3 billion population shops and pay for things, boosting Mr Ma’s net worth to more than $40bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, making him China’s richest man.

He stepped down as chief executive in 2013 – Daniel Zhang now holds the reins – but continued to serve as the company’s main international face at political and business events. He maintains a prominent global profile also by overseeing charitable projects in education and environmental fields, including through his Jack Ma Foundation, and is a cult figure in China’s internet industry.

Many Chinese people even have a portrait of him in their homes as a symbol of wealth they hope will being them good fortune.

Last month, Alibaba reported a 60 per cent rise in second-quarter sales, although profits fell. Annual revenue totals about 250bn yuan, or $40bn.

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Mr Ma plans to focus on philanthropy in education when he retires, he told the paper. A few days earlier he told Bloomberg in an interview: “Education is so critical for the future. I learned so much from the Alibaba journey the past 19 years that I think it’s my responsibility to share. Whether people agree or disagree, that’s OK...but you have to share because society gives us - gives me - so much resources, so much experiences, we should not waste it.”

Asked whether he missed teaching, Mr Ma said: “I miss it very much. I came to business by accident...I think someday, very soon, I’ll go back to teach. This is something I...think I can do much better than being Alibaba’s CEO.”

He also said he wanted to devote most of his time to the Jack Ma Foundation that was set up 10 years ago once he retires.

While Mr Ma’s retirement from a formal role is a milestone, some analysts said his practical involvement in Alibaba’s operations will not change hugely. “I don’t think it means that much, frankly,” Kevin Carter, founder of the Emerging Markets Internet and E-commerce exchange-traded fund, told the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

“He stepped back from the CEO role about four or five years ago and very specifically made a comment about wanting the younger people to lead the company.”

However, others said his retirement can be viewed as significant given the increasingly interventionist role China’s government is playing in private companies. Chinese economic growth has also slowed of late and the country is embroiled in a deepening trade war with the US.

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Big player

“He’s a symbol of the health of China’s private sector and how high they can fly whether he likes it or not,” Duncan Clark, author of the book “Alibaba: The House Jack Ma Built,” told The New York Times. “His retirement will be interpreted as frustration or concern whether he likes it or not.”

Alibaba has posted updates on Twitter in recent days from Mr Ma’s visit to African leaders and business partners.

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