Jack Ma to step down as Alibaba's chief executive

Founder of e-commerce giant says he will still be chairman and responsible for strategic issues

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2013, 6:21pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2013, 4:15am

Jack Ma Yun will step down as chief executive of Alibaba Group, the mainland's biggest e-commerce company, which he founded 14 years ago. He will remain as chairman.

"In the following years, I will be mainly responsible for strategic issues," Ma said in an e-mail to employees yesterday.

The move will be effective from May 10.

Ma is widely regarded as an entrepreneur with charisma, a quality rarely seen in mainland businesspeople.

The announcement follows news last week that Alibaba is splitting into 25 units to be more agile in responding to the market.

Guosen Securities analyst Eric Qiu Lin said Ma would continue to set the direction for Alibaba.

"The restructuring came before Ma announced that he is relinquishing his position as chief executive. Clearly, the structural reform is being carried out under his guidance," Qiu said.

He said Ma was not retiring completely and would remain the company's public face.

Qiu expects Ma to focus more on broader issues, including preparing for Alibaba's initial public offering and co-ordinating its different business groups.

Ma said in a recent interview that the exact timing and other details of an initial share sale had not yet been determined.

"He will distribute his power to others, but the really important decisions, including mergers and acquisitions, the IPO and reorganisation, will be up to the board, which is headed by Ma," Qiu said.

Ma said he was stepping down as chief executive because "I see that Alibaba's young people have better, more brilliant dreams than mine, and they are more capable of building a future that belongs to them".

He said the new chief executive would be named when he left the job in May.

It was highly likely that Ma would promote someone in the company to the position, Qiu said. "The chance of parachuting someone from outside is tiny," he said.

Ma said in his e-mail that taking over the chief executive's job from a company's founder was a difficult task that required courage and sacrifice, "but fortunately, Alibaba has a number of strong candidates".

"The internet belongs to the young people," Ma, 48, said.

He said most of Alibaba's leaders "born in the 1960s" would also pass their responsibilities to younger colleagues born in the 1970s and 1980s.

"We believe that they understand the future better than us, and then have a better chance of seizing the future," Ma said.

Alibaba bought back half the 40 per cent stake Yahoo owned in the firm for about US$7.6 billion in September last year.