Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba, resigned as head of the Chinese technology behemoth last week. A self-made man who built an empire from nothing, Ma’s vision and hard work transformed the way China does business, and Alibaba’s success made him the richest man in China. Ma exemplifies much of modern China. He also anticipates that the time has come for him to relinquish his high-profile position. That too is a sign of the times in his country.

There is little in his background to have suggested that Ma was destined for greatness. He struggled to get into college — it took four tries to pass the entrance exam — and eventually became an English teacher. He claims to have been rejected by every private company he sought to join, including Kentucky Fried Chicken. He discovered the internet in 1995 during a trip to the United States; struck by the paucity of information about his country, he set up a crude website about China. That effort struck gold and in 1999 he and 17 other friends established Alibaba, a business-to-business website, in his apartment.

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