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From Poor Beginnings To Billionaire Status: Jack Ma Retires From Alibaba

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Today, Jack Ma officially steps down as the chairman of Alibaba, the giant e-commerce company he cofounded 20 years ago. Ma’s resignation also falls on another momentous day—his 55th birthday. 

 

Ma has implemented a succession plan—passing the baton to the next generation, including CEO Daniel Zhang and CFO Maggie Wu.

“Having been trained as a teacher, I feel extremely proud of what I have achieved. Teachers always want their students to exceed them, so the responsible thing to do for me and the company to do is to let younger, more talented people take over in leadership roles so that they inherit our mission ‘to make it easy to do business anywhere,’” Ma stated in his resignation letter on the 19th anniversary of Alibaba.  

Ma says that he will continue to serve in some advisory functions.

His next chapter will be to pivot from the business world to improving education through philanthropy, following the footsteps of Bill Gates, a fellow pioneer in technological innovation. Ma would rather appropriate the earnings he’s made from Alibaba to positively changing the education system in China, instead of handing it to investors or banks.

 

 

As for myself, I still have lots of dreams to pursue. Those who know me know that I do not like to sit idle. I also want to return to education, which excites me with so much blessing because this is what I love to do. The world is big, and I am still young, so I want to try new things—because what if new dreams can be realized,” Ma says of his future.

The business magnate’s enthusiasm to share his knowledge was clearly evidenced in a recent wide-ranging debate with Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The free-form conversation covered artificial intelligence, space travel, inhabiting other planets, healthcare, the future of work and other meaningful topics. Ma was lively and looked like a weight was lifted off his shoulders. The teacher in him shined bright. It seemed that this debate was a sneak peek into the next chapter of his life—sharing his life and work experiences with everyone.

 

Ma grew up in humble circumstances in communist China. He famously tells people how he how he twice failed his university-entrance exams and was rejected from every job he applied to after college, including the fast-food chain, KFC.

 

Ma is the quintessential rags-to-riches story. After many early setbacks, Ma, along with a scrappy team of 18 people and $60,000, cofounded Alibaba in the city of Hangzhou in 1999. Today, only 20 years later, Alibaba—one of the world’s largest retailer and e-commerce companies, boasts over 101,000 employees and a market value of about $420 billion. Ma has an estimated net worth over $40 billion. 

Ma was seen as a breath of fresh air in the traditionally conservative Chinese business culture. He cultivated the persona as an irreverent ambassador for the company. Ma embraced over-the-top stunts, including a Michael Jackson-inspired dance at an Alibaba anniversary party and acted in his own kung fu film, Gong Shou Dao

He has come under fire for his views on the controversial practice known as “996.” This number refers to Ma’s belief that everyone in his company should happily work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. At a mass wedding of 102 couples at his company headquarters, Ma urged his newlywed staff to have six-day “sex marathons.” 

 

“At work, we emphasize the spirit of 996. In life, we should follow 669,” he said.

 There is some speculation that Ma’s retirement is due to tension with the Chinese Communist Party, as a result of his power and influence, coupled with the government’s scrutiny of technology companies and tightening the grip on private businesses. The Washington Post reported that prominent Chinese entrepreneurs who receive press attention are more likely to be investigated or arrested compared to those who shy away from media coverage. Ma told a group of rural teachers in 2016, “I think among the richest men in China, few have good endings.” 

A shrewd businessman, Ma knows when to walk away as winner, folk hero and a shining example of what people can accomplish.

 
 
 

 

 

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