Jack Ma speaking at an event in Hong Kong

World’s largest retailer loses chairman, as Ma steps away from Alibaba

Image credit: REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo

Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba, has announced that he is stepping down as chairman of the e-commerce and tech company to focus on educational charity work.

Ma will leave his leading role at Alibaba in one year, passing on his reins to Daniel Zhang in September 2019. He will complete his term on the Alibaba board of directors, which ends in 2020.

Zhang is best known as a founding figure behind Alibaba’s ‘Singles Day’: the world’s largest online shopping event, which falls before Christmas and which brought in $25.4bn (£19.6bn) in sales on 11 November 2017.

“Under [Zhang’s] stewardship, Alibaba has seen consistent and sustainable growth for 13 consecutive quarters,” Ma wrote. “Starting the process of passing the Alibaba torch to Daniel and his team is the right decision at the right time.” He said that he had been planning his departure from the company for a decade. He will change his focus to his work in education charities, as well as supporting his own charitable trust which is dedicated to health and the environment.

Ma - who gave up his role as CEO of his company in 2013 - has repeatedly commented that Alibaba is best managed by the young.

“There’s only Bill Gates who has done the same. No other tech founder in the world has just resigned like that at the top,” Rupert Hoogewerf, founder of the Hurun Report, told Reuters.

Ma has no background in technology, but co-founded Alibaba in 1999 after being introduced to the internet during a trip to the US and finding no sites dedicated to China. Since then, Alibaba has become the world’s largest retailer and one of the largest internet and artificial intelligence (AI) companies, with its online sales exceeding those of eBay, Amazon and Walmart combined.

Beyond e-commerce, Alibaba has also invested in cloud computing, facial recognition and microchips. In January, the company launched its AI traffic management system, City Brain, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. An AI developed by the company was the first in history to beat a human in a reading comprehension test.

Ma is one of the wealthiest people in the world, with a personal fortune of over $36bn (£28.3bn) and was ranked second on Fortune magazine’s 2017 list of the world’s greatest leaders. He is known for being a colourful and generally well-liked public figure in China, with an affection for theatricality, notably performing Michael Jackson’s Thriller on stage to celebrate Alibaba’s 18th birthday in 2017.

In April 2017, he called for educational reform to allow humans to learn to work alongside autonomous technology.

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