According to the report, Ma will step down from the company to pursue philanthropy in education. Ma, noted The New York Times, is a former English teacher who started Alibaba in 1999, building it into one of the world’s biggest eCommerce and digital payments companies. With a net worth of $40 billion, he is China’s richest man. The retirement comes as the business environment in China is worsening, with the government and state-owned businesses intervening more in operations of private sector companies. China’s internet industry has grown more important under current President Xi Jinping, resulting in more censorship by the government. It also comes as the Chinese economy is seeing a slowdown in growth and debt that is rising, not to mention an increasing trade war with the U.S. “He’s a symbol of the health of China’s private sector and how high they can fly, whether he likes it or not,” Duncan Clark, author of the book “Alibaba: The House Jack Ma Built,” told the NYT in an interview. “His retirement will be interpreted as frustration or concern, whether he likes it or not.”
Ma told the NYT in an interview that his retirement shouldn’t be viewed as an end of an era but the start of a new one. He said he will focus his time and money on education, but that he will also remain on the board of directors and will continue to mentor the management at the company. Ma turns 54 on Monday (September 10), and his retirement will coincide with Teacher’s Day, a Chinese holiday, noted the report. He will also be one of the first founders of Chinese internet companies to step down. The paper noted it’s rare for Chinese business leaders to retire in their 50s, with many staying on the top of their companies for many years. Of the internet companies in China, Alibaba is seen as one of the companies with the deepest management teams. In August Alibaba was able to report a 60 percent increase in sales. Its annual revenue is around $40 billion.