Jack Ma, China's richest man who found the multinational e-commerce giant Alibaba, is stepping down from the company to focus his energy on philanthropy and education, according to the New York Times.
A former English teacher, Ma founded Alibaba in 1999 and over the course of the next two decades, transformed it into a sprawling business empire encompassing e-commerce, retail, Internet, and technology. As of now, Alibaba is valued at nearly $400 billion, with Ma's personal worth estimated to be in the region of $40 billion, making him the richest man of the world's most populous nation.
But the increasingly interventionist approach of the Chinese government has soured the business environment in a country where Ma is almost single-handedly responsible for changing the way people buy and sell things. Ma refused to blame the government for his decision, however, saying there were more important things in his life than being the "CEO of Alibaba," according to Bloomberg.
The billionaire told the media outlet that he would rather follow in the footsteps of American billionaire Bill Gates, who is known for his philanthropic initiatives, especially focusing on education in third-world countries.
"I can never be as rich," Ma said about comparisons with Gates.
"I can retire earlier. [I could] go back to teaching. This is something I think I can do much better than being CEO of Alibaba."Ma revealed that he has been planning to take the post-retirement plunge into the field of education, something he claims has always been his first love, for quite some time.
"I've prepared a Jack Ma Foundation," Ma said. "All these things that I've been preparing for 10 years."
Although the Chinese billionaire stepped down from the chief executive position at his company back in 2013, he has remained the public face of China's biggest technology giant and was instrumental in giving shape to its long-term strategy. But following his retirement, which is believed to take place as early as Monday, Ma would only serve on the company's board and wouldn't invest in the conglomerate's day-to-day affairs.
Ma's affection for teaching and education is nothing new, with the Chinese billionaire often called "Teacher Ma" by the employees at Alibaba.
Nonetheless, experts are concerned that Ma's retirement would be interpreted as a disillusionment of the business class with the Chinese state's increasingly interventionist ways.
"He's a symbol of the health of China's private sector and how high they can fly whether he likes it or not. His retirement will be interpreted as frustration or concern whether he likes it or not," Duncan Clark, author of Alibaba: The House Jack Ma Built, told the Times.
But Ma himself has previously quashed those opinions, saying that the continuously growing Chinese market presents one of the biggest business opportunities for entrepreneurs. In a conference last November, he had spoken glowingly of China's business future.
"There's no country like China in the world," Ma had said. "With political stability, social safety and six percent-plus economic growth, we have the best business environment."