Jack Ma, the co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba which is one of the most consequential e-commerce and digital payments companies in the world, plans to step down from his post to pursue philanthropy in education. He co-founded the Chinese internet retailer in 1999 and built it into an empire now worth $420 billion and making the former English teacher China's richest man worth about $40 billion.
"I love education", the Chinese billionaire said, adding that he would be spending more of his time and fortune focused on education. He cited the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates as an example.
Richard Liu, the billionaire founder of Alibaba's main competitor JD.com, was briefly arrested in the U.S. over a rape allegation last week. "I can never be as rich, but one thing I can do better is to retire earlier", he said.
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Ma, who turns 54 on Monday, told New York Times that the decision to retire would be "the beginning of an era" instead of an end. In 1999, Jack Ma along with 17 others had founded Alibaba in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.
After being knocked back by United States venture capitalists in 1999, cash-strapped Chinese entrepreneur Ma persuaded friends to give him $60,000 to start an e-commerce firm called Alibaba. It grew into one of the world's largest online retailers, earning it comparisons to USA -based Amazon.
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.
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FILE PHOTO: Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma gestures as he attends the 11th World Trade Organization's ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina December 11, 2017. A former teacher, Ma told Bloomberg TV earlier this week he might go back to teaching someday.
Ma's announcement was somewhat unorthodox; the Times is blocked in China by Communist Party censors, while there was no official statement from Alibaba.
While Ma has been serving as Alibaba's executive chairman after handing the CEO title to David Zhang in 2013, the New York Times reports that Zhang is a candidate to take over his chairman duties.
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The company's value has soared in recent years thanks to a growing portfolio that includes cloud computing, films, electronic payments and retail. The company has increased its presence outside China by investing in e-commerce and online finance companies in India and Southeast Asia. Ant Financial has revenues of about $40 billion a year.