The founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba has announced he will step down as the company’s chairman next September.
In a letter released by Alibaba, Jack Ma said he will be succeeded by CEO Daniel Zhang, an 11-year veteran of the company. Mr Ma handed over the CEO post to Zhang in 2013 as part of what he said was a long-planned succession.
Mr Ma, a former English teacher, founded Alibaba in 1999 in a flat in the eastern city of Hangzhou to connect Chinese exporters with foreign retailers.
It expanded into consumer retailing, becoming the world’s biggest e-commerce company by total value of goods sold, as well as online finance, cloud computing and other services.
Mr Ma, 54, became one of China’s most famous entrepreneurs and one of the world’s richest. The Hurun Report, which follows China’s wealthy, estimates his net worth at 37 billion US dollars (£28.65 billion).
Alibaba’s 25 billion dollar (£19 billion) initial public stock offering on Wall Street in 2014 is the biggest to date by a Chinese company.
Alibaba said Mr Ma will remain a member of the Alibaba Partnership, a group of 36 people with the right to nominate a majority of its board of directors. That arrangement limits shareholder control, but Mr Ma has defended it as a way to keep Alibaba focused on long-term development.
“This transition demonstrates that Alibaba has stepped up to 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 talent development,” said Mr Ma’s letter.
Alibaba is part of a group of companies including games and social media giant Tencent Holding, search engine Baidu.com and e-commerce rival JD.com that have revolutionised shopping, entertainment and consumer services in China.
E-commerce sales in China rose 32.2% last year to 7.2 trillion yuan, accounting for 20% of total retail spending.
Alibaba was founded at a time when few Chinese used the internet. As internet use spread, the company expanded into retailing and services. Few Chinese used credit cards, so Alibaba created its own online payments system, Alipay.
Mr Zhang, Mr Ma’s planned successor, joined Alibaba in 2007 after working at Shanda Entertainment, an online games company. He served as president of Alibaba’s consumer-focused Tmall.com business unit.