Change at Alibaba as chair Jack Ma announces he is stepping down

10 Sep 2018

Jack Ma. Image: feelphoto/Shutterstock

Alibaba chair Jack Ma is to take a step back from the Chinese giant.

Jack Ma co-founded Alibaba close to two decades ago and he has seen the company grow exponentially over the last number of years. Alibaba has grown to dominate the market in China, while also attracting plenty of attention from abroad.

The billionaire entrepreneur will now hand over the executive chair role to Daniel Zhang, who has presided over the company as CEO over the last three years.

From Ma to Zhang

Ma said he would be handing the role over to Zhang in exactly 12 months’ time, but he will remain on the company board until 2020. According to a statement from the outgoing chair, he intends to focus more on his philanthropic and educational efforts.

Ma is China’s richest man and helped mould Alibaba into the juggernaut it is today. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, he has a net worth of more than $40bn. He spoke about the changes coming in the next year: “Starting the process of passing the Alibaba torch to Daniel and his team is the right decision at the right time, because I know from working with them that they are ready.”

Ma added that Zhang is a “superb talent” with a strong business acumen and “determined leadership”. Zhang has been part of Alibaba since 2007, when he joined Taobao Marketplace, the online retail platform.

The outgoing chair originally gave up his title of CEO in 2013 to focus on other duties.

The incoming chair helped Alibaba turn Singles’ Day into an e-commerce cornerstone in China, as well as creating a more diverse business model, melding messaging, online retail and cloud computing.

Alibaba continues to grow, but challenges are ahead

Since Alibaba’s IPO in 2014, its share price has more than doubled and its market capitalisation is akin to Facebook in China. Ma claims that the succession plan is to ensure that Alibaba is not entirely dependent on a single individual, but his involvement looks unlikely to cease entirely.

The change in the company’s leadership comes as unrest around trading between Chinese and US continues, and regulation on tech firms from the Chinese government ramps up.

Ma wrote: “When Alibaba was founded in 1999, our goal was to build a company that could make China and the world proud and one that could cross three centuries to last 102 years. However, we all knew that no one could stay with the company for 102 years.

“A sustainable Alibaba would have to be built on sound governance, culture-centric philosophy and consistency in developing talent. No company can rely solely on its founders. Of all people, I should know that. Because of physical limits on one’s ability and energy, no one can shoulder the responsibilities of chairman and CEO forever.”

A former English teacher, Ma also expressed a wish to return to education, saying: “Because this is what I love to do.”

Jack Ma. Image: feelphoto/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects