Alibaba’s Ma to step down as chief next year

SHANGHAI: Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma announced yesterday that he would step down as head of the Chinese e-commerce giant in one year, a departure already drawing comparisons to the retirement of late Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Analysts said the early withdrawal of Mr Ma, who became the charismatic face of a company that has revolutionised how and what China's people consume, will test the company's ability to carry on Mr Ma's vision amid rising competition.

But like Apple's transition to current boss Tim Cook, Alibaba chief executive and anointed successor Daniel Zhang may be less magnetic than his predecessor but has proven an able steward since effectively taking the operational reins years ago, they said.

"Day-to-day operations-wise Alibaba will not be affected that much. But since he (Ma) is the face of the company, people may lose a little bit of faith," said Mr Jackson Wong, associate director with Huarong Securities in Hong Kong.

"But where Jobs died, Ma is expected to stay on in an advisory role, so there shouldn't be too much impact."

Mr Ma - who turned 54 yesterday - said in a statement that he will stay on as executive chairman until his 55th birthday before handing over that role to Mr Zhang.

"While remaining as executive chairman in the next 12 months, I will work closely with Daniel to ensure a smooth and successful transition," he said.

Mr Ma, who has expressed a desire to follow in the philanthropy footsteps of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, said he would remain on Alibaba's board until 2020.

He was an English teacher before starting Alibaba in his apartment in 1999 in Hangzhou - where its headquarters remain to this day.

He has a net worth of more than US$40 billion (S$55 billion) according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, and Alibaba was valued at US$420.8 billion as of last Friday. - REUTERS