Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma is planning exit from the company

Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, China’s richest person and the most instrumental builder of one of the country’s most successful businesses, is planning to step away from the company, and plans to unveil a succession plan next week, according to the South China Morning Post (via TechCrunch).

In an interview with the Morning Post, Ma says that he met with the company’s senior officials a decade ago, and “asked what Alibaba would do without me,” putting into place a system that would prepare the next generation of leaders for the company. On Friday, The New York Times reported that Ma would retire to focus on philanthropy. An Alibaba spokesman said that the Times story was taken “out of context and [was] factually wrong,” noting that Ma will remain as the company’s executive chairman, and will “provide transition plans over a significant period of time.”

Ma, who is 53 years old, started Alibaba in 1999 and helped grow it into a $420 billion business that has been instrumental in shaping how Chinese citizens purchase and pay for online goods. He owns a 6.4 percent stake in the company, giving him a net worth of more than $40 billion.

Alibaba, largely seen as the Amazon of China, began as an online business-to-business marketplace, though it began to grow aggressively with the launch of the direct-to-consumer marketplace Taobao in 2003. Alibaba has since expanded into digital media, cloud computing, and a wide-ranging number of other industries, and it’s cemented itself as an everyday service provider with the online payments product Alipay. The company also owns a sizable stake in China’s Twitter-like social media platform Weibo.

Ma now operates as Alibaba’s executive chairman, having ceded the CEO role to David Zhang in 2013, and controls Ant Financial, the rebranded Alipay and now the financial services subsidiary of Alibaba. The NYT reports that Zhang is a likely inheritor of Ma’s duties. Though Ma is one of the first of his generation of Chinese billionaire businessmen to step down and is doing so at a young age, he is widely revered in China, known as “Teacher Ma,” and his philanthropic arm, the Jack Ma Foundation, is focused on fostering education for members of rural China.

Updated September 8th, 3:15PM ET: Updated to include report from South China Morning Post and statements from Alibaba, which pushed back on the Times report that Ma was retiring imminently. The article and headline have been updated accordingly.