He will resign from the role in 2019 at age 55, he said, and will be succeeded by CEO Daniel Zhang. The timeline gives the leadership a year to execute the transition — Ma will remain as executive chairman until 2020, after which he will continue to be a part of the Alibaba Partnership, a group of executives with influence over the company’s board.
The departure will cap off a tenure during which the former English teacher grew the company from a single web page run out of his apartment to a global technology conglomerate that’s often held up as Amazon’s Eastern rival. (He also became China’s richest man in the process.)
Here are six important things to know about Ma’s exit:
- The succession plan has been in the works for a decade. In a letter to shareholders, employees and customers, Ma emphasized the importance of training the next generation of Alibaba leaders. “We asked ourselves this question 10 years ago — how could Alibaba achieve sustainable growth after Jack Ma leaves the company?” he wrote. “We believed the only way to solve the problem of corporate leadership succession was to develop a system of governance based on a unique culture and mechanisms for developing consistent talent and successors.” This strategy seems particularly imperative at the moment, as rival JD.com’s shares have been pummeled following sexual misconduct allegations against its founder and CEO.
- He has said he wants Alibaba to be around for 102 years. Ma’s goal has long been to build a company that lasts, and since it was founded in 1999, by the year 2101, it will have endured over three centuries (hence the specificity).
- His successor, Daniel Zhang, has been with the company since 2007, and will take the reins on September 10, 2019. Zhang joined Alibaba Group as chief financial officer of Taobao Marketplace, and rose through the ranks until he was named CEO in 2015. He was also the mastermind behind the company’s Singles’ Day shopping event (also known as the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival), which last year generated $25.3 billion in sales.
- Ma plans to focus on education and philanthropy after he steps down as chairman. In interviews with various media outlets last week, the executive signaled that his retirement would be the beginning of a new chapter in his life. As he writes in his departure letter, he wants, “to return to education, which excites me with so much blessing because this is what I love to do. The world is big, and I am still young, so I want to try new things — because what if new dreams can be realized?!” He will also likely ramp up his work with the Jack Ma Foundation, which he founded in 2014 with the goal of improving education in rural China.
- With Alibaba’s growth, Ma has helped usher in a technology boom in China and cement the country’s place as a force in e-commerce. The founder has been a charismatic leader for the company and a champion for Chinese industry, connecting businesses and consumers at home and abroad with merchants of all sizes through Alibaba’s different e-commerce marketplaces, including Taobao, Tmall and Aliexpress.
- Still, the announcement comes at a time of widespread uncertainty for the Chinese economy. The escalating trade war with the U.S., which President Trump has doubled down on in recent weeks despite outcry from American businesses, is taking a toll on Chinese stocks and threatens to stymie economic growth in the country if it continues.