SHANGHAI – Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma announced Monday he would step down as leader of the pioneering Chinese e-commerce giant one year from now, but insisted that a planned leadership transition would not break the company’s stride.
Ma will stay on as executive chairman until Sept. 10, 2019, before handing over his role to current Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang, Alibaba said in a statement.
“While remaining as executive chairman in the next 12 months, I will work closely with Daniel to ensure a smooth and successful transition,” Ma said in the statement. Ma said he would remain on Alibaba’s board until 2020.
Ma, who turned 54 on Monday, was an English teacher before starting Alibaba in 1999 and building it into a multibillion-dollar internet colossus, becoming one of the world’s richest men and a revered figure in China.
The statement did not specify exactly what Ma planned to do after stepping down but said he wants to “return to education.” Ma has taken on educational initiatives as pet projects. “As for myself, I still have lots of dreams to pursue. Those who know me know that I do not like to sit idle,” he said.
Ma’s worth has soared along with that of his company, which was valued at $420.8 billion when the stock market closed Friday. He gave up the title of Alibaba CEO in 2013 but remains a pivotal figure within the company as well as its most recognizable face.
In an interview released Friday Ma hinted at his retirement plans, saying he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Microsoft founder Bill Gates — one of the world’s most prolific philanthropists.
His departure comes amid a cautiously optimistic outlook for the company. Alibaba’s combination of online retail and pioneering use of digital payments has changed the way China’s people consume, and the company has wowed investors year after year with sterling revenue growth. But it faces intense competition in China from the likes of rivals Tencent, JD.com and other rising upstarts.
Alibaba still dominates Chinese e-commerce, but is also pouring investment into new initiatives to broaden its ecosystem — including brick-and-mortar retail, cloud computing, digital media, movies, the grocery sector, meal deliveries and advertising.
It also has upped investments in overseas ventures and in 2015 bought the South China Morning Post newspaper.
Seeing an opportunity for small businesses to sell their goods online, he launched Alibaba initially out of his apartment in the eastern city of Hangzhou, where the company’s headquarters remains.
The charismatic Ma has inspired strong devotion among employees and consumers. He has drawn comparisons with late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, although he practices a more open management style.
Alibaba, which has shares listed in New York, sought to reassure investors of the change, with Ma saying he had “full confidence” that the system and leadership put in place will “win support from customers, employees and shareholders.”