You might call it, the end of an era.
Jack Ma, the charismatic English teacher-turned-businessman, is officially stepping down as chairman of Chinese retail behemoth, Alibaba, on Sept. 10 — the day the entrepreneur turns 55.
As part of his post-retirement plan, the co-founder of the multinational intends to spend a good amount of his vast fortunes (worth over US$41 billion) on his first love — education.
Ma is leaving his multi-billion dollar e-commerce conglomerate in the hands of his trusted partners — CEO Daniel Zhang and Co-founder and vice-chairman Joseph Tsai, Business Today reported.
He had announced last year that he would hand over the company chairman’s post to Zhang. Ma would, however, serve on the Alibaba board till 2020.
Daniel Zhang, popularly known Xiaoyaozi (free and unfettered one) among Alibaba’s employees, has won the trust of the Chinese billionaire during his 11 years of association with the e-commerce giant.
From a cash-strapped entrepreneur to one of the richest man in the world, Ma’s journey is nothing short of a miracle.
“He’s succeeded at what Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and (Yahoo co-founder) Jerry Yang failed at, which is making themselves redundant,” Jeffrey Towson, Peking University professor, was quoted by AFP as saying.
Towson added that Ma built a robust culture and innovative culture at Alibaba, which had helped the company stay ahead in the game.
Alibaba clocks over 750 million monthly active users. Its cutting-edge tech prowess, coupled with China’s massive consumer base, has helped the company helped compete with the likes of Amazon, the US e-commerce giant.
Ma was Alibaba’s driving force and a frequently irreverent ambassador for the company, known for stunts like a Michael Jackson-inspired dance at an Alibaba anniversary celebration two years ago and starring in his own kung fu short film, AFP reported.
Ma, along with a team of 18 people, had founded Alibaba from an apartment in the eastern city of Hangzhou to connect Chinese suppliers with foreign retailers in 1999.
It expanded into consumer retailing, online finance and other services, becoming the world’s biggest e-commerce company by the total value of goods sold across all its platforms.
Twenty years later, it has more than 66,000 full-time employees and a market value of about US$420 billion.
Alibaba has continued to expand its ecosystem, pushing into cloud computing, entertainment, and a “new retail” concept — combining online ordering with bricks-and-mortar stores — while its Alipay finance unit has pioneered cashless digital payments, AFP reported.
Despite slowing Chinese economic growth and the US trade war, earnings have so far remained strong.
Ma, who has established an eponymous charitable organization, already has launched a range of education initiatives.
Last month he sketched out his mantra going forward during a technology debate in Shanghai with Elon Musk, good-naturedly chiding the US entrepreneur about his obsession with putting a man on Mars.
“We need a hero like you, but we need more heroes like us improving things on Earth,” Ma said.
In a 2015 interview with Charlie Rose reported by CNBC, Ma said he faced rejection in his life many times.
“I failed at key primary school test two times and I failed like three times for the middle schools,” Ma told Rose. “I applied for Harvard — 10 times rejected,” Ma said. But eventually, Ma attended and graduated from the Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute with a major in English language education.
Ma was also rejected for a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken (24 people applied and all but Ma got the job), as a cop and for a gig as a waiter at a four star hotel in Hangzhou (his cousin got the job).
The key, Ma says, is to not let rejection keep you down for long.
“Of course, you are not happy when people say ‘no.’ Have a good sleep, wake up, try it again,” Ma said.
Ma told Charlie Rose he’s inspired by Forrest Gump in that respect: “I love Forrest Gump,” Ma said. “Simple — never give up.”