Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma announces plans to retire at 54

Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma to retire

China's richest man Jack Ma will retire on Monday

While Ma sees himself as an accidental executive who only entered the business world with Alibaba's founding nearly 20 years ago, he has become one of China's most recognized corporate leaders.

Ma stepped down as Alibaba's CEO in 2013 but retained a role as executive chairman and a stake in the company.

Ma said the move will be "the beginning of an era" and revealed that he may now focus on education, which he "loves". Ma plans to remain on the board of directors of the Chinese e-commerce giant, which he co-founded in 1999 and which turned him into the richest man in China as of Friday.

The retirement makes Ma one of the first founders among a generation of prominent Chinese internet entrepreneurs to step down from their companies.

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Ever the drama creators, other outlets were quick to say Ma is trying to one-up Gates. Ma, whose Chinese name is Ma Yun, said he might start a foundation of his own, like Bill Gates. Ma also controls Ant Financial, which was valued at about $150 billion after a recent fundraising round.

Alibaba Group is a Chinese multinational holding conglomerate specialising in e-commerce, retail, Internet, AI and technology. Monday is his 54th birthday, and the Chinese holiday Teacher's Day, making the announcement particularly timely. Ma's net worth is $39.9 billion, according to Bloomberg's Billionaires Index.

Richard Liu, the billionaire founder of Alibaba's main competitor JD.com, was briefly arrested in the U.S. over a rape allegation last week.

"It doesn't matter how big or small your contribution is, and it doesn't mean you have to do something big or be someone important to do philanthropy", Ma Said recently at Alibaba's conference on philanthropy, in Hangzhou. Liu Qiangdong, the billionaire founder of online retailer JD.com, was arrested on rape charges last week on a business trip to Minneapolis.

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As Alibaba has flourished, Ma has talked many times about how he did not want to spend his whole life at the company, saying he would retire one day and go back to teaching. Numerous co-founders are still around, and professionals who joined the company later are now in charge.

Earlier this year regulators shot down a $1.2-billion bid for money transfer service Moneygram International Inc by Ant Financial on national security grounds, which the company said was related to "geopolitical" changes.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV this week, Ma signalled he was thinking about focusing more on philanthropy.

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