Beijing: Alibaba co-founder and chairman Jack Ma plans to retire from the Chinese e-commerce giant on Monday to devote his time to philanthropy focused on education, he said in an interview.
Ma was an English teacher before starting Alibaba in 1999 and built it into a multibillion-dollar internet colossus, becoming one of the world’s richest men and a revered figure in his homeland.
His own worth has soared along with that of the company, which was valued at $420.8 billion based on its share price at the close of trade on Friday.
Ma told that he plans to step down from the company on Monday his 54th birthday referring to his departure as “the beginning of an era” rather than an end.
Ma, who gave up the title of CEO in 2013, said he now planned to devote his time, and fortune to education.
The way he chose to make the announcement was unusual. The New York Times is blocked in China by Communist Party censors and there was no official statement from Alibaba on Saturday.
But in an interview released on Friday, he hinted at his retirement plans, saying he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, one of the world’s most prolific philanthropists.
“There’s a lot of things I can learn from Bill Gates. I can never be as rich, but one thing I can do better is to retire earlier,” he said.
“I think someday, and soon, I’ll go back to teaching,” he said, adding he had been preparing philanthropy plans at his eponymous foundation “for 10 years”.
Ma is part of a generation of billionaire entrepreneurs who made their fortunes as China embraced the digital age, creating some of the country’s largest and most successful companies in the space of little more than a decade.
Huge conglomerates like Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, and JD.com are to China what Facebook and Google are to the United States.
Ma is the first of his generation of uber-wealthy tech bosses to retire, a rare move in a country where business figures often run their empires well into their 80s Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing only retired in May at the age of 89.
Ma’s rags-to-riches story is particularly remarkable.
Born into a poor family in Hangzhou, eastern Zhejiang province, Ma became a university teacher but gave the job up after discovering the internet.
After being knocked back by US venture capitalists in 1999, a cash-strapped Ma persuaded friends to give him $60,000 to start Alibaba, which operated out of an apartment in Hangzhou.