A volunteer introducing a replica of Taobao’s first office  at the Taobao Museum during the Taobao Maker Festival 2018. (Image credit: TechNode/Emma Lee)

Jack Ma, the legendary Chinese entrepreneur behind Alibaba Group, is handing his board chairman title over to CEO Daniel Zhang on Tuesday as he retires from the company he founded 20 years ago.

Why it matters: Responsible for leading Alibaba’s growth from an ambitious idea to a business empire with a market cap of nearly half a trillion dollars, Ma has left his indelible mark on the company’s culture, values, ethics, and goals, influencing the wider technology industry.

  • Zhang takes the helm amid a strategic shift to business-facing services as well as an intensifying globalization push.
  • As the engineer for some of the company’s best-known achievements and a key proponent of Alibaba’s “New Retail” model, 47 year-old Zhang has been more visible since Ma’s retirement plan was announced.
  • The company has been restructuring over the past year with appointments of new top executives across major positions from its core- e-commerce unit to strategic investment.

Details: The retirement of Alibaba’s charismatic and high-profile founder is uncharacteristically low-key.

  • The self-made billionaire announced his retirement plans in September 2018, leaving the company a year to adjust its leadership.
  • Ma, once an English teacher in Hangzhou, will devote himself to education after retirement.
  • Sept. 10, or National Teacher’s Day, is a special day for Ma, who is commonly known as “Ma Lao Shi,” or “Teacher Ma” in China’s tech world. It is also his birthday.
  • There will be no public events to mark Ma’s departure. Instead, the company will host an internal party to celebrate its 20th anniversary, which also falls on Sept. 10.
  • To commemorate the anniversary, Alibaba has posted a poem to its home city of Hangzhou, which the company said was the among “first cities in China to welcome and embrace digital transformation.”

Context: Alibaba was established in a small Hangzhou apartment by a group of 18 founders led by Ma in 1999.

  • Alibaba went public on the New York Stock exchange in what was the biggest IPO in history.
  • Originally an e-commerce platform, Alibaba’s ecosystem now consists of a range of services that include Taobao and Tmall marketplaces, financial unit Ant Financial, Alibaba Cloud, Cainiao Logistics, and food delivery platform Ele.me.
  • The financial markets reflected investor sentiment about Ma’s leadership following his retirement announcement a year ago, with Alibaba shares falling nearly 4% on September 10, 2018.

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.

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