Chinese billionaire Jack Ma shook the global tech industry and beyond by revealing plans to step down from his role as executive chairman at Alibaba Group Holding, the most valuable company in Asia, in one year on Monday.
In a letter to all staff, Ma cited reasons of giving way to younger generations to take over the tech juggernaut, which also owns the South China Morning Post.
An eloquent and animated public speaker who has attracted a large following with inspirational speeches, the tech mogul has talked about his retirement plans with candour and humour at various events over the past few years.
The self-made billionaire has also spoken of his dissatisfaction with his busy life and longing for becoming a teacher once again.
Ma has repeatedly talked about his hectic schedule even after retiring from the chief executive officer of Alibaba in 2013.
While Ma was no longer in charge of managing Alibaba’s daily operations, he remained the company’s public face, travelling around the world to meet heads of governments and preach for the benefits of globalisation and technological advancement.
Video clips showing a tired Ma dozing off during a Beijing conference made rounds on social media in January. Social media users found out he was in the audience at a forum about artificial intelligence the night before in Hong Kong, after meeting the French president in the morning.
“When I retired from the CEO position [in 2013], I told my team that I should have more time playing golf, [or lounge] on the beach. I flew 870 hours last year, and this year, 1,000 hours,” Ma said in an interview with American talk show host Charlie Rose in Detroit in June, 2017. “The thing is, I don’t want to die in my office. I want to die on the beach.”
As Alibaba grew and joined the ranks of Apple, Microsoft and Amazon as the most valuable companies on earth, Ma has made unlikely remarks about his mixed feelings towards the company he co-founded in 1999.
He famously said his “biggest mistake” was to start Alibaba, because of the enormous pressure and responsibility he had to shoulder to steer the US$420 billion company with more than 86,000 employees.
“I was just trying to do a small business and grow it,” he said at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2016. “Now there are so many responsibilities and so much trouble. Every day is like [being a nation’s] president, and I don’t have any power. And then I don’t have my life.”
“If I still can have a next life, I will never do a business like this. I will be my own self, I want to enjoy my life,” he said.
Ma has brought up his longing for returning to teaching multiple times in public.
He said his “happiest moment in life was when I was making just 91 yuan (US$12) every month as a poor schoolteacher,” during a talk show last year.
Ma taught English at a college in eastern China’s Hangzhou city for six years after graduating from Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute in 1988. He outperformed his peers with lively classes and humorous teaching, and was recognised as one of the “10 outstanding young teachers” at the school in 1994.
“I was never trained in commerce, never been an accountant or programmer. The only thing I do is to learn and share. I work as an entrepreneur in the same way as being a teacher,” Ma said at a conference in November.
Ma often referred to himself as the Chief Education Officer of Alibaba, and said he would like the next generation of executives to replace him, just like “a teacher always wants the students to exceed himself.”
This article Jack Ma, Alibaba’s ‘Chief Education Officer’, unveils a 12-month succession plan first appeared on South China Morning Post