No formal announcement has yet been made by the company to shareholders or the stock markets. Alibaba is China’s largest corporation and, with a listing on the New York Stock Exchange, is currently valued at $420 billion.
In a yet-to-be published interview with The New York Times, Ma said he would step down Monday – his 54th birthday – as executive chairman of the company that he helped found in 1999 and that has become a digital behemoth in the world’s most populous country. The paper said Ma would remain on Alibaba’s board of directors and continue in a mentoring role.
His retirement would mark “the beginning of an era” for him, one in which he could concentrate on charitable activities in education, a field close to his heart, he said in the interview.
Alibaba is active in sectors across the Chinese economy and has transformed many. One of those is entertainment, through its Alibaba Pictures arm, which owns a stake in Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, and through its hugely popular movie-ticket sales app, Tao Piao Piao. The company also has a 12-year partnership with the International Olympic Committee, to help the organizers of the Olympic Games with digital strategy and processes.
Ma stepped down as CEO of Alibaba in 2013. That post now belongs to Daniel Zhang, a former head of Alibaba’s Taobao, the consumer-directed sales site that helped vault its parent company into the financial stratosphere from its humble beginnings as a B-to-B operation.
Although he was no longer in charge of the day-to-day running of the company, Ma continued to be Alibaba’s guiding hand and its most recognized face. He has become a familiar figure in both Hollywood and Silicon Valley, hobnobbing with the global elite at the World Economic Forum in Davos and other gatherings.
“Everyone has the right and the ability to give. It doesn’t matter how big or small your contribution is, and it doesn’t mean you have to do something big or be someone important to do philanthropy,” Ma Said recently at Alibaba’s conference on philanthropy, in Hangzhou. “Personal philanthropy is not about giving cash, but giving your heart, your time and most importantly, your action. Ultimately, personal philanthropy makes you a better person, and if everyone participates, we will have a better world.”