Jack Ma: Alibaba begins new era as founder departs

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Alibaba chairman Jack Ma is due to step down from the e-commerce giant on Tuesday, marking the end of an era for the firm.

The former English teacher co-founded Alibaba in 1999 and it has become one of the world’s biggest internet firms.

Mr Ma’s success and colourful style has made him one of China’s most recognisable businessmen.

Daniel Zhang, Alibaba’s chief executive, will replace him as executive chairman.

The company is now valued at $480bn (£389bn) and Mr Ma is one of China’s richest men.

He is also the first founder among a generation of prominent Chinese internet entrepreneurs to step down from his company.

Who is Jack Ma?

Born to a poor family in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, Mr Ma began his career as an teacher.

He bought his first computer at the age of 33 and was surprised when no Chinese beers turned up in his first online search for “beer”.

With no background in computing, Mr Ma co-founded Alibaba in his apartment, having convinced a group of friends to invest in his online marketplace.

He oversaw the firm’s growth into an international heavyweight and its listing in New York which set a record as the world’s biggest public stock offering.

Mr Ma has a net worth of $38.6bn, ranking him among the world’s richest billionaires, according to Forbes.

He also appears to enjoy the limelight and featured in an Alibaba event in 2017 wearing a Michael Jackson-themed outfit.

What’s next for Mr Ma?

The tech entrepreneur has said he wants to focus on philanthropy and education.

He told the New York Times last year that his retirement was not the end but the “beginning of an era”.

“I love education,” he was quoted at saying.

The newspaper said he would remain on Alibaba’s board of directors and continue to mentor the company’s management.

Quiet, unassuming and known to shy away from the spotlight, Mr Zhang is nothing like his predecessor.

Inside Alibaba Mr Zhang is reportedly known as Xiaoyaozi, the name of a character in a Chinese martial arts novel. It means the “unfettered one”- someone who stays out of battles but is great at training others.

That reputation will come in handy as he steers Alibaba through arguably some of its most challenging times. The Chinese market, where it makes two thirds of its revenue, is slowing down.

At the same time, attempts to expand internationally have struggled.

US scrutiny of Chinese firms is blocking its growth in the West. In parts of South East Asia and India, analysts say understanding how to work in local markets and with local people is proving to be a challenge for the Chinese company.

Then there’s the delayed multi-billion dollar public offering in Hong Kong, reportedly due to pro-democracy protests there.

Yet Mr Zhang’s greatest challenge may be living up to the image of Mr Ma himself, a man who enjoyed the respect and affection of his staff as well as the international community.

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