Jack Ma, the charismatic co-founder of China’s largest e-commerce firm Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., will step down as chairman in exactly one year on Sept. 10, 2019, the company said.
Current Alibaba chief executive Daniel Zhang will replace him as chairman, while Ma will complete his current term on Alibaba’s board of directors until the company’s annual general meeting in 2020, Reuters reports.
Ma relinquished the role of chief executive in 2013. Zhang, 46, has been in the job since 2015 after serving as the company’s chief operating officer.
Ma, who turned 54 on Monday, will continue to mentor senior management as part of an advisory board called the “Alibaba Partnership”.
Zhang, 46, previously served as the company’s chief operating officer. He is known as a key architect of Alibaba’s “Singles Day”, the Nov. 11 event that has become the world’s largest online shopping event.
“I will work closely with Daniel to ensure a smooth and successful transition,” Ma said in a letter released by the company.
Ma, who co-founded Alibaba in 1999, is one of China’s richest people with a net worth of US$36.6 billion, according to Forbes, while the company has grown to have more than 66,000 full-time employees and market value of some US$420 billion.
A former English teacher with no technical background, Ma has a large popular following in China and is seen as an icon of self-made wealth.
The New York Times, which reported on Friday that Ma would retire from the e-commerce company on Monday, said he seeks to focus on philanthropy in education.
Ma oversees a number of charitable projects in education and environmental fields. He is a cult figure in China’s internet industry and has attracted a big following among entrepreneurs and in pop culture. At events, he is often met with screaming fans.
Ma’s retirement plans come at a tricky time for Chinese tech firms. Authorities have increasingly sought to regulate the industry where Alibaba and main rival Tencent Holdings Ltd. (00700.HK) are battling for consumers.
Trade tensions also present a new challenge for Chinese tech firms, especially those like Alibaba which are rapidly expanding overseas.
This year, regulators shot down a US$1.2 billion bid for money transfer service Moneygram International Inc. by Ant Financial on national security grounds, which the company said was related to “geopolitical” changes. Ant, also controlled by Ma, was valued at about US$150 billion after a recent fundraising round.
Ma’s decision also comes as US police investigate an allegation of rape against Richard Liu, head of e-commerce rival JD.com Inc., which has hammered its shares.
Liu was arrested and released without charge in the US city of Minneapolis last week. Through his lawyers, he has denied any wrongdoing.
Liu is chairman and chief executive at JD.com, and the incident spooked investors as the company has no clear succession plan.
(Updated; first reported at 9:09 a.m.)
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