It has been 20 years since an ambitious and charismatic English teacher co-founded Alibaba. The company has since grown to become one of the largest and well-known brands in e-commerce that has left a profound impact on China’s economy. However, all things must come to an end; and as of 10 September 2019, Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba, has finally stepped aside as chairman of the company.
This marks the end of an era and the start of a new one as Ma handed the reins of the company over to a team of executives led by CEO Daniel Zhang. Ma has stated that he intends to put his accumulated fortune of over US$41 billion to good use on philanthropic endeavours.
Ma’s departure comes not only on his birthday but, fittingly, on Teacher’s Day in China. Alibaba also stages its 20th-anniversary bash on that same evening. Alibaba has provided few details on Ma’s participation or whether there will be a formal handover ceremony.
Ma was a cash-strapped entrepreneur when someone showed him the Internet on a 1990s trip to the United States.
He launched various Internet-related business projects in China that met mixed success before convincing a group of Chinese and foreign friends to give him US$60,000 to start a business-to-business e-commerce venture called Alibaba in 1999.
Since then, Alibaba has risen to dominate the Chinese e-commerce scene, holding more than half of the domestic market share. With a dominant position in digital payments through affiliate, Ant Financial, and further international ambitions, Alibaba’s momentum shows no signs of slowing down.
US-listed Alibaba is now among the world’s most valuable companies, worth US$462 billion, according to Bloomberg data. The way forward will not be an easy one as domestic competition is ever increasing and the dismal state of the global economy is causing a dip in consumer spending.
Ma is expected to maintain an advisory role in the company, but he has expressed his confidence that the company he helped built is more than capable of thriving in his absence.
“The one thing I can promise everyone is this: Alibaba was never about Jack Ma, but Jack Ma will forever belong to Alibaba,” he said.
Ma’s successor, Daniel Zhang, is a mild-mannered finance expert. However, he is not to be taken lightly. While Ma might bathe in the limelight and inspire employees and audiences, Zhang prefers to work behind the scenes and let the results speak for themselves. According to Chinese media, if Jack Ma was the one to lay the foundations of Alibaba, Zhang was the one who built the house on-top of it.
Zhang’s team took over operations years ago, pouring investment into new initiatives including bricks-and-mortar retail, cloud computing, digital media, the grocery sector, meal delivery, entertainment and advertising. Earnings have remained strong.
Ma, and by extension Alibaba itself, has had its fair share on controversy; most recently what appeared to be Ma advocating for the gruelling “996” work culture that is commonplace in China. Despite this, no one can argue the success he has gained and the strength of Alibaba on the global economic stage.