On Tuesday, Jack Ma officially stepped away from his day-to-day role at the e-commerce giant he created in 1999. It surprised no one: Ma telegraphed the move as early as 2013, when he became chairman of Alibaba Group, giving the role of CEO to Daniel Zhang. Never one to shun the spotlight, his retirement ceremony was held at a 80,000-capacity stadium and featured flashy performances from Ma, Zhang, Alibaba technology committee CEO Wang Jian, as well as co-founders Joe Tsai and Lucy Peng.
An oft-repeated Ma-ism, “Alibaba isn’t Jack Ma” is salient at this moment—indeed, this historical moment. Just as Steve Jobs’s vision of consumer electronics changed how we think about technology, so too has Jack Ma’s vision for online commerce changed how we buy things (and not just in China!).
(As an aside, writing this piece does feel like I’m falling into Ma’s hype trap. It’s not hard for me to imagine him regularly checking his Google alert for “Jack Ma retirement” a la Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral just to hear what people say about him.)
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