China's richest man Jack Ma to stand down from Alibaba

Screenshot via Bloomberg

Screenshot via Bloomberg

Ma, who boasts a net worth of almost $40 billion(€34 billion), making him China's richest man, said he would use his retirement to focus on his philanthropic work, mainly around education.

Shares dropped more than 2 percent following the report of Ma's impending retirement. The company has increased its presence outside China by investing in e-commerce and online finance companies in India and Southeast Asia.

Alibaba has one of the strongest management teams in corporate China and even if he steps down, Ma is likely still to have a role in setting top-level strategy, says Brock Silvers, MD of Kaiyuan Capital.

Ma was born into a poor family in the city of Hangzhou in China's eastern Zhejiang province. "On a day-to-day basis, Alibaba shareholders probably have little to fear should the charismatic Ma pull back a bit further".

Ma is one of China's wealthiest men, with his net worth estimated at US$40 billion by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He cited the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates as an example.

Since handing off his CEO title to Daniel Zhang, Ma has spent 40 per cent of the year travelling the globe to preach about the virtues of globalisation and inter-connectedness, the potential of technology to improve lives, and about philanthropy.

He has told the New York Times that he will now focus on philanthropy in education. The company had a market value of around $420 billion as of Friday.

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He is one of the most colorful of China's growing crop of billionaires, performing a Michael Jackson-inspired dance routine at the company's 18th anniversary celebration past year, and starring in his own kung fu short film.

Huge conglomerates like Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and JD.com are to China what Facebook and Google are to the United States. "This is something I think I can do much better than being CEO of Alibaba", he said. Ma, who founded Alibaba in 1999, stepped down as chief executive in 2013.

Ma said he sees himself as an accidental executive. He said the reason he's leaving is to pursue philanthropic endeavors focused on education.

He is referred to as "Teacher Ma" within Alibaba.

In 2014, he created the Jack Ma Foundation, which has worked to improve education in rural China.

"He's a symbol of the health of China's private sector and how high they can fly whether he likes it or not", Duncan Clark, author of the book "Alibaba: The House Jack Ma Built", said of Ma. However, in contrast to the American magnate, he wants to "retire earlier".

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