Alibaba’s Jack Ma, the co-founder and executive chairman who is stepping down, plans to hand over leadership to Daniel Zhang, the company’s current chief executive.
The Wall Street Journal, citing a letter Ma addressed to customers, reported Ma said he would stay on the board until 2020 and that he plans to continue his role as the founding partner of Alibaba Partnership, which is comprised of senior executives who can nominate most of the board at the company even though they don’t hold majority shares. “The world is big, and I am still young, so I want to try new things — because what if new dreams can be realized?” Ma wrote. “The one thing I can promise everyone is this: Alibaba was never about Jack Ma, but Jack Ma will forever belong to Alibaba.”
According to the Wall Street Journal Zhang, who is 46, will take on the leadership role at China’s biggest eCommerce company. Zhang joined Alibaba in 2007 and oversaw the growth of Tmall, its business-to-consumer shopping platform, which has become an online giant. He is also credited with starting Singles’ Day, a one-day shopping event that has become huge in China and is behind Alibaba’s new retail initiative, which aims to blend online and offline shopping. “Alibaba has seen consistent and sustainable growth for 13 consecutive quarters under Mr. Zhang,” Ma’s letter said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “His analytical mind is unparalleled, he holds dear our mission and vision, he embraces responsibility with passion, and he has the guts to innovate and test creative business models.”
Ma is gearing up to pursue philanthropy in education, which isn’t surprising given he 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 also 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 the 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.