The Alibaba co-founder, a former English teacher with no technical background, said he is stepping down so that he can ‘try new things’
Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma has said he is to retire in exactly one year, handing control of China’s leading e-commerce giant over to Daniel Zhang, currently the firm’s chief executive.
Ma announced his decision in a letter to customers and shareholders on Monday, his 54th birthday, saying he wanted the company’s management team to remain relatively young.
Former English teacher Ma co-founded Alibaba in 1999, considered a risky move at a time when state-owned enterprises were the norm in China.
He has since become one of the world’s richest men, with a fortune worth some $36.6 billion (£28.3bn).
Zhang, 46, is a former accountant who has held various roles at Alibaba over the past 11 years.
He developed the company’s Single’s Day promotion, which has grown into the world’s biggest one-day online retail event.
Zhang is to take over as executive chairman on 10 September of next year, Alibaba said in a statement.
The one-year handover period is aimed at achieving a “smooth and successful transition”.
“The responsible thing to do for me and the company to do is to let younger, more talented people take over in leadership roles,” Ma said in the letter. “The world is big, and I am still young, so I want to try new things,”
Ma is to remain a director on Alibaba’s board until its 2020 annual shareholder meeting, and is a permanent member of the Alibaba Partnership, which mentors executives.
Alibaba’s 2014 share listing in New York was at the time the US’ biggest-ever initial public offering of shares.
The company said it had revenues of $39.9bn for the full fiscal year ending in March 2018.
The Alibaba co-founder, known for having high-profile friends amongst China’s billionaire moguls and movie stars, maintains a mandatory tai chi programme for staff at Alibaba and last starred in a short kung fu film alongside stars such as Jet Li.
Since stepping down as chief executive in 2013 he has focused on philanthropic causes and on promoting Alibaba abroad. After leaving the company he is expected to devote his time to philanthropy and education.