Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company, will step down as chairman next year on September 10th.
Ma, who relinquished the role of chief executive in 2013, turned 54 this month. He will be replaced by Daniel Zhang who has served as CEO of Alibaba since 2015. Zhang is known as the major architect of Alibaba’s November 11th “Singles Day” event, which has become the world’s largest online shopping occurrence.
Ma praised Zhang in a letter released by the company saying, “[I am] 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, and I have complete confidence in our next generation of leaders. Under his stewardship, Alibaba has seen consistent and sustainable growth for 13 consecutive quarters.” Zhang will continue to serve as CEO after Ma’s resignation.
According to Forbes, Ma, who co-founded Alibaba in 1999, is one of China’s richest people with a net worth of $36.6 billion. Reuters reports that “the company has grown to have more than 66,000 full-time employees and a market value of some $420 billion.”
Ma will continue to mentor Alibaba’s management as part of the company’s “Partnership”, a 36-member group of core company managers. The group has the ability to nominate the majority of directors on the company’s board.
Ma is an unlikely figure to head up a major e-commerce company. A former English teacher with no background in information technology, Ma has developed a large following in China and is seen as an icon of self-made wealth.
According to Reuters, “He is also known for his eccentric personality and has donned wigs and costumes to perform highly choreographed pop routines at company events. Last year he starred alongside Chinese action star Jet Li in a short kung fu film. Since handing over the CEO role, Ma has concentrated on philanthropy and promoting Alibaba internationally at business and political events.”
Ma told the company, “As for myself, I still have lots of dreams to pursue. Those who know me know that I do not like to sit idle. I also want to return to education, which excites me with so much blessing because this is what I love to do.”
Gil Luria, director of research at financial services firm D.A. Davidson & Co., told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that the Ma’s move was not unexpected. “(Ma) stepped back five years ago to become chairman,” Luria said. “He’s done, he’s already worked on the succession for years. It seems to be going in a fairly orderly fashion.”
Regarding Ma’s future impact, Luria added, “The communication to the outside world beyond the investment community may be a little different without Jack Ma. He’s a very colorful, charismatic figure, and that aspect of communication may go away. But the strategies put in place at the tech giant, including an online-to-offline new retail strategy, belong to Zhang. It’s his company now and as chairman, (Zhang) would most likely continue those strategies.”