Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, China’s richest person and the most instrumental builder of one of the country’s most successful businesses, will retire from the company next week to focus on philanthropy, The New York Times reported Friday evening. 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.