Jack Ma has announced that he will step down from his role as chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA), the e-commerce giant he co-founded out of a Hangzhou-based apartment in 1999, in exactly one year.
In a letter, the charismatic 54-year-old said he will be succeeded by Daniel Zhang, an 11-year veteran at the company who became its CEO in 2015. To ensure a “smooth and successful transition,” Ma added that he will remain in his current role until Sept. 10, 2019 and stay on the Alibaba board of directors until the 2020 annual shareholder meetings are concluded. He will also remain a member of the Alibaba Partnership.
Jack Ma: “The one thing I can promise everyone is this: Alibaba was never about Jack Ma, but Jack Ma will forever belong to Alibaba.” https://t.co/gqlr67wyNk pic.twitter.com/Hl8Rps51mB
— Alibaba Group (@AlibabaGroup) September 10, 2018
Ma, a former English teacher who helped transform Alibaba into one of China’s most valuable companies with a market capitalization of over $420 billion, said he plans to use his free time to focus on philanthropy and education, while remaining a lifetime member of the 36-person Alibaba partnership and a shareholder in the group. Ma's net worth is $36.6 billion, according to Forbes, making him the second-richest person in Asia after India's Mukesh Ambani and the richest person in China.
“I still have lots of dreams to pursue,” he added in the letter. “I also want to return to education, which excites me with so much blessing because this is what I love to do.”
Ma's decision to move on has been a decade in the making. He initially stepped down as CEO in 2013 and has since played an ambassadorial role at the company he co-founded. In the letter, he said he “put a lot of thought and preparation into this succession plan for ten years.”
Ma described his successor as showing “superb talent, business acumen and determined leadership”, adding that Zhang’s “analytical mind is unparalleled . . . and he has the guts to innovate and test creative business models”.
Zhang was promoted from chief operating officer to CEO of Alibaba in 2015 and is known for being a key architect of "Singles Day", the Nov. 11 event that has become the world's largest online shopping event. (See also: Starbucks-Alibaba Challenged by Tencent in Coffee Business.)
He joined Alibaba in Aug. 2007 as chief financial officer of Taobao Marketplace, the company’s online e-commerce platform. Prior to that, Zhang worked with PwC and an online game developer. (See also: Why Alibaba’s Stock Faces More Declines Ahead.)
Alibaba stock was down over 1% in pre-market trading on Monday morning.