Alibaba’s Jack Ma declares retirement

FOLLOWING GATES::Jack Ma told the ‘New York Times’ he plans to step down on his 54th birthday — tomorrow — referring to his departure as ‘the beginning of an era’


Sun, Sep 09, 2018 - Page 16

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴) cofounder and chairman Jack Ma (馬雲) plans to retire tomorrow from the Chinese e-commerce giant to devote his time to philanthropy focused on education, he told the New York Times in an interview.

Ma 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 his homeland.

His own worth has soared along with that of the company, which has added cloud computing, films and e-payments to its growing portfolio and was valued at US$420.8 billion in New York trading at market close on Friday.

Ma told the Times that he plans to step down from the company tomorrow, his 54th birthday, referring to his departure as “the beginning of an era” rather than an end.

Ma, who gave up the title of CEO in 2013, said he now plans to devote his time and fortune to education.

He is among China’s richest men, with a net worth of about US$40 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The way he chose to make the announcement was unusual. The Times is blocked in China by Chinese Communist Party censors and there was no official statement from Alibaba yesterday.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV released on Friday, Ma hinted at his retirement plans, saying that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Microsoft Corp founder Bill Gates, one of the world’s most prolific philanthropists.

“There are a lot of things I can learn from Bill Gates. I can never be as rich, but one thing I can do better is to retire earlier,” he said.

“I think that some day, and soon, I’ll go back to teaching,” he said, adding that he has been preparing philanthropy plans at his eponymous foundation “for 10 years.”

Ma is part of a generation of billionaire entrepreneurs who made their fortunes as China embraced the digital age, creating some of the country’s largest and most successful companies in the space of little more than a decade.

He is the first of his generation of superwealthy tech bosses to retire, a rare move in a country where business figures often run their empires well into their 80s.

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing (李嘉誠) only retired in May at the age of 89.

Ma’s rags-to-riches story is particularly remarkable.

Born into a poor family in Hangzhou in China’s Zhejiang Province, Ma became a university teacher, but gave up the job after discovering the Internet.

After being knocked back by US venture capitalists in 1999, a cash-strapped Ma persuaded friends to give him US$60,000 to start Alibaba, which operated out of an apartment in Hangzhou.

The company, still headquartered in Hangzhou, initially allowed businesses to sell products to each other online, but soon morphed into China’s largest online retail market.

The Alibaba empire now spans well beyond online retail and payments to include cloud computing, digital media and entertainment, with sterling revenue growth that jumped another 61 percent in the second quarter of the year.

Ma’s departure appears “a little bit rushed,” but also shows that he has confidence in the company’s leadership, Huarong International Securities Ltd (華融國際金融) associated director Jackson Wong (黃志陽) said.

“But his retirement will definitely affect the overall image of the company, because when you think of Alibaba, you think of Jack Ma,” Wong said.

Ma has inspired strong devotion among his employees and users, drawing comparisons with late Apple Inc cofounder Steve Jobs — although he practiced a more open management style.