Alibaba's Jack Ma 'to step down and focus on philanthropy'

Saul Franklin
September 8, 2018

Jack Ma has announced his plans to retire from his brainchild company, China's e-commerce giant Alibaba, the New York Times reports.

Alibaba Group is a Chinese multinational holding conglomerate specialising in e-commerce, retail, Internet, AI and technology.

With a market value of more than $400bn (£309bn), it includes online selling, film production and cloud computing.

It owns a stake in China's hugely popular Twitter-like Weibo platform and in 2015 it bought the South China Morning Post newspaper.

Alibaba's growth and Ma's wealth track changes in modern China, in which a burgeoning urban middle class has more money to spend while authorities allowed large accumulations of wealth, especially when connected to forward-thinking enterprises. He founded the Jack Ma Foundation, a philanthropic organisation devoted to education, in 2014. He started Alibaba from his flat in Hangzhou with a group of friends. While Ma sees himself as an accidental executive who only entered the business world with Alibaba's founding nearly 20 years ago, he has become one of China's most recognized corporate leaders.

The pair met while Morley was on a trip to China in 1980.

While Ma's retirement from a formal role is a milestone, analysts and industry professionals say it is unlikely Ma's involvement will change significantly.

When asked whether that could happen this year, Ma shrugged and smiled.

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"There's a lot of things I can learn from Bill Gates", he said.

Ma's financial gift was to initially fund 30 scholarships at the University of Newcastle for Australian students.

In 1999, Jack Ma along with 17 others had founded Alibaba in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

On one hand, Chinese tech companies are facing increased scrutiny by the Chinese government led by President Xi Jinping, on the other hand, the tech firms are caught in an escalating trade war between the United States and China.

He likes to recount his stories of rejection, such as the time he was turned down for a job at the KFC fast-food chain and being rejected by Harvard "10 times".

Ma's announcement was somewhat unorthodox; the Times is blocked in China by Communist Party censors, while there was no official statement from Alibaba. Ma stepped down as Alibaba's chief executive in 2013; the company's current chief executive is Daniel Zhang, who is a candidate to succeed Ma.

But in an interview with Bloomberg TV broadcast on Friday, Ma indicated that he had plans to soon retire and that he wanted to follow Microsoft founder Bill Gates as one of the world's most prolific philanthropists.

In an interview earlier this week, Ma had signaled that he was thinking about focusing more on philanthropy. "Ultimately, personal philanthropy makes you a better person, and if everyone participates, we will have a better world".

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