Alibaba founder and billionaire Jack Ma announced he would step down as the Chinese e-commerce giant’s executive chairman next year and named the company CEO as his successor.
Ma, 54, will hand over the keys of his company to 46-year-old Daniel Zhang in an unprecedented succession plan that will slowly take the focus off one of China’s most recognisable corporate names over the next 12 months, Hong Kong-based South China Post, which is owned by Alibaba, reported.
Zhang will be promoted to the executive chairman on September 10, 2019, while Ma remains a director on Alibaba’s board and a permanent member of the Alibaba Partnership, according to a letter written by Ma to all staff including to the Post. Ma said he will remain Alibaba’s executive chairman during the year-long period to ensure a “smooth and successful” transition, and stay on as an Alibaba director until a shareholder meeting in 2020.
“This transition demonstrates that Alibaba has stepped into the next level of corporate governance from a company that relies on individuals, to one built on systems of organisational excellence and a culture of consistent talent development,” Ma said in his letter.
The succession plan being announced on his birthday on Monday came after confusing reports about Ma’s retirement. The New York Times, which interviewed him, reported that Ma planned to use his 54h birthday to announce his retirement to devote his time to philanthropy focused on education.
The report of his retirement came as a surprise, especially in the Chinese government circles as the NYT report said Ma was relinquishing as China’s business environment had soured, with the government and state-owned enterprises increasingly playing more interventionist roles with companies.