The announcement was made a year ago, and Ma remained in the role until Sept. 10, 2019 to ensure a smooth transition. In a letter, the charismatic 54-year-old said he will be succeeded by Daniel Zhang, a 12-year veteran at the company who became its CEO in 2015. Ma will 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.
Ma, a former English teacher who helped make Alibaba one of China’s most valuable companies with a market capitalization of over $460 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 $38.6 billion, according to Forbes, making him the third-richest person in Asia after India's Mukesh Ambani and Tencent founder Ma Huateng.
"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" and praised Alibaba's partnership system. He said, "The partnership system we developed is a creative solution to good governance and sustainability, as it overcomes several challenges faced by companies of scale: continuous innovation, leadership succession, accountability and cultural continuity."
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.
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.
Alibaba stock is up nearly 30% year-to-date.