Alibaba’s Jack Ma to Hand Chairman’s Role to CEO Daniel Zhang in 2019

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Jack Ma will step down as executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. in exactly 12 months time with Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang to succeed him at Asia’s most valuable company. Ma will remain on the board until Alibaba’s annual meeting of shareholders in 2020, the Hangzhou-based company.

His retirement as executive chairman will coincide with his 55th birthday. He now intends to focus on philanthropy and education but also pursue unspecified “new dreams.” He wanted to follow in the footsteps of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, one of the world’s most prolific philanthropists.

Ma has become synonymous with turning the company that started in his Hangzhou apartment into a global e-commerce giant with burgeoning cloud computing and package delivery businesses. Ma’s 46-year-old successor has pushed Alibaba deeper into the wallets of Chinese consumers as it bought and transformed brick-and-mortar outlets: a so-called “New Retail” vision that’s cost billions of dollars and took it into the realm of physical stores.

A former English teacher, Ma started Alibaba.com in 1999 as a business-to-business marketplace with 17 co-founders. An investment from Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. helped the company expand to allow consumers in China buy online and fueling its rise. Through the Taobao and Tmall platforms, it is responsible for billions of dollars in sales and last year saw daily package deliveries reach 55 million. Alibaba has since moved beyond e-commerce into cloud computing, digital payments, healthcare, Hollywood movies and backing China’s startups.

Ma said, “Starting the process of passing the Alibaba torch to Daniel and his team is the right decision at the right time, because I know from working with them that they are ready” and further added, “Since he took over as CEO, he has demonstrated his superb talent, business acumen and determined leadership.” He plans to shift his focus to philanthropy and education, taking him back to his profession before starting an e-commerce empire.

Ma has remained the public face of Alibaba, showing off his wit and dispensing folksy wisdom on the global stage. That made him China’s highest-profile business leader, a rarity in a country where many come up through the ranks of state-owned enterprises, and is a supporter of the ruling Communist Party. The company has a strong management team and Ma is likely to still have a role in setting top-level strategy.