Concern is growing at Jack Ma’s absence from public view in the past two months, amid a Chinese regulatory crackdown on his business empire.
Former English teacher Jack Ma co-founded Alibaba in 1999, and under his stewardship it became one of the world’s biggest e-commerce firms.
His decision to create a company in the 1990s was a risk, as at that time it was the norm in China for most companies to be state-owned enterprises.
His hard work (he believes staff should work 12 hour days, six days a week) helped him become one of the world’s richest men, with a fortune worth approximately $48.2 billion.
Alibaba itself is worth $635bn and employs 117,600 staff.
The Alibaba co-founder is a Communist Party member, and he is known for having high-profile friends amongst China’s billionaire moguls and movie stars.
He also maintains a mandatory tai chi programme for staff at Alibaba and has previously starred in a short kung fu film alongside stars such as Jet Li.
But Ma’s golden lifestyle has endured a few bumps recently, and speculation has been mounting on social media as to his absence from the limelight for the past several months.
Jack Ma has not appeared in a public setting since late October in Shanghai, where he publicly hit out at China’s regulatory system in a speech that put him on a collision course with Beijing.
Some feel this speech resulted in the suspension of a $37 billion IPO of Alibaba’s Ant Group fintech arm.
Jack Ma was also abruptly replaced as a judge in the final episode in November of a game show for entrepreneurs called Africa’s Business Heroes.
An Alibaba spokeswoman told Reuters on Monday that the change was due to a scheduling conflict, declining further comment.
It is known that Chinese regulators have also focused on Ma’s businesses since his October speech.
In late December for example, Chinese officials launched an antitrust probe into Alibaba.
Meanwhile Ant Group was also recently ordered to shake up its lending and other consumer finance businesses, including the creation of a separate holding company to meet capital requirements.
“I think he’s been told to lay low,” Duncan Clark, chairman of Beijing-based tech consultancy BDA China told Reuters. “This is a pretty unique situation, more linked to the sheer scale of Ant and the sensitivities over financial regulation,” he said.
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