ack Ma, China’s most iconic entrepreneur and one of the world’s richest men, has announced a year-long succession plan which will see him step down as executive chairman of Alibaba on September 10th, 2019.
A former English teacher from Hangzhou, Ma cofounded Alibaba in 1999, turning the company into a $420 billion e-commerce giant and himself into China’s most influential business guru. With a 6.4 percent stake in Alibaba, Ma is estimated to be worth nearly $40 billion.
“No company can rely solely on its founders,” Ma wrote in an open letter today, the billionaire’s 54th birthday, the 19th anniversary of Alibaba’s founding, and Teacher’s Day in China. “Of all people, I should know that. Because of physical limits on one’s ability and energy, no one can shoulder the responsibilities of chairman and CEO forever.”
While he will step down as Alibaba’s chairman next year, Ma will remain on the company’s board until 2020 and will stay on as a lifetime partner.
At this time, Ma’s exact retirement plans are unclear, however, he reportedly plans to spend his time focusing on charity projects and those dealing with education in particular.
“I also want to return to education, which excites me with so much blessing because this is what I love to do,” Ma writes. “The world is big, and I am still young, so I want to try new things – because what if new dreams can be realized?!”
A man of many talents, Ma will likely have no shortage of ways to fill his time during his golden years. Recently, Ma has been taking full advantage of his fame, belting out “Unchained Melody” at a Chinese music festival, doing his best Michael Jackson impression at Alibaba’s birthday bash last year, and even starring in his own kung-fu flick alongside the likes of Jet Li and Donnie Yen. It’s possible that Ma will become only more visible in retirement.
This day apparently comes as quite the relief for Ma. In a 2016 Q&A session, he called founding Alibaba his life’s “biggest mistake,” complaining:
I never thought that this thing would change my life. I was just trying to do a small business and grow that big, take that much responsibility and got so much trouble. Every day is like as busy as a president, and I don’t have any power! And then I don’t have my life.
So I said in my next life, if I still can have a next life, I will never do a business like this. I will be my own self, I want to enjoy my life.
Ma says that he has been carefully preparing for this company transition for a decade. Taking over for him will be Daniel Zhang, already Alibaba’s CEO since 2015. Zhang is far more low-key than Ma, described as the Clark Kent to Ma’s Superman by Duncan Clark, author of Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built. Zhang is credited with spearheading Alibaba’s annual Singles’ Day shopping extravaganza, the biggest single retail event in human history.
“The one thing I can promise everyone is this: Alibaba was never about Jack Ma, but Jack Ma will forever belong to Alibaba,” Ma concludes in his letter.