Alibaba Group says Jack Ma will quit as the retail giant’s chairman in one year, when he’ll be replaced by current CEO Daniel Zhang. Ma, 54, co-founded the company in 1999. Last year, it reported $39.9 billion in revenue.
In announcing the succession plan, Ma said he would remain involved with the company’s partnership group but gave few specifics about his plans for the future. The former English teacher said, “I also want to return to education … because this is what I love to do.”
“I still have lots of dreams to pursue,” Ma wrote in an open letter published in a news release. He plans to leave the chairman post on the day of Alibaba’s 20th anniversary: Sept. 10, 2019.
Alibaba has been working toward this transition for a decade, as part of its lofty goal of being a company that can last for more than 100 years, Ma said. In recent years, that goal has seemed more and more attainable for the retailer, which is currently valued at more than $420 billion.
Zhang has been with Alibaba for 11 years and has been its CEO since the summer 2015. He is credited with leading the retailer’s push into mobile and with building its “11.11” sale — the November event that became a massive hit with Alibaba’s online shoppers.
A former chief financial officer who studied economics, Zhang isn’t expected to rival the showmanship of Ma, who effortlessly generates newsworthy quotes and is known for donning wild costumes and dancing and singing at his company’s meetings and at festivals.
Ma is stepping aside as China’s central government has shown signs of wanting to rein in companies that have ballooned in wealth as the country’s economy has boomed. As Bloomberg reported earlier this year, regulators are looking to limit future growth for companies such as Ant Financial, the Alibaba affiliate that has become a giant in the financial technology world. Although it’s still a privately owned startup, Ant was valued at $150 billion last spring, far surpassing venerable companies such as Goldman Sachs.
Concerns about new regulations and other government controls didn’t come up in Ma’s letter to his customers, employees and shareholders. Instead, he stressed how proud he is of the company’s bright future.
Ma wrote: “Teachers always want their students to exceed them, so the responsible thing to do for me and the company to do is to let younger, more talented people take over in leadership roles so that they inherit our mission ‘to make it easy to do business anywhere.’ Carrying out this mission in order to help small businesses, young people and women around the world is my passion.”
Ma will remain on Alibaba’s board of directors until his term expires in 2020.