The richest man in China, Jack Ma, plans to retire this Monday from Alibaba, the US$420 billion e-commerce company that he founded, according to an interview with the New York Times. But a report in The South China Morning Post Saturday morning says otherwise.
“An Alibaba spokesman said Ma remains the company’s executive chairman and will provide transition plans over a significant period of time, contrary to a New York Times article that said he was ‘stepping down’ to ‘retire.’ The Times story was taken out of context and factually wrong, the spokesman said,” the Post reported.
Ma, a former English teacher whose net worth is now estimated at $40 billion, co-founded Alibaba in 1999. He turns 54 this coming Monday. His birthday also coincides with a the Chinese holiday of Teacher’s Day, which celebrates educators. Ma stepped down as Alibaba’s chief executive in 2013, but remained executive chairman.
When he does retire, Ma told the Times that he will focus his time—and money—on education.
Alibaba started as a business-to-business marketplace, but had enormous growth when it started selling to consumers. It’s also one of the largest payment processors, with its Alipay service (now Ant Financial) relying on 2D code linked to bank accounts to allow retailers to accept electronic payments. Ant Financial has revenues of about $40 billion a year.
With the consolidation of political power by China’s president, Xi Jinping, however, the business climate has changed. Xi has consistently represented himself as an anti-corruption reformer, and led a campaign that has punished 1.5 million members of the Communist Party. That effort helped him consolidate party and popular power, leading to securing constitutional changes that allow him to serve as president for life.
Xi has tightened control over businesses, especially ones that allow people to communicate over the Internet, and gone after billionaires who have mismanaged companies, allegedly committed crimes, such as bribery, or run afoul of Chinese politics.
Alibaba’s growth and Ma’s wealth track changes in modern China, in which a burgeoning urban middle class has more money to spend while authorities allowed large accumulations of wealth, especially when connected to forward-thinking enterprises.
Alibaba has made few inroads outside of China. Its closest counterpart, Amazon, has crossed back and forth over the $1 trillion market value recently, and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, is the world’s wealthiest man, worth about $160 billion.