Alibaba’s Founder to Give Up C.E.O. Title, but Will Remain Chairman

Alibaba’s Founder to Give Up C.E.O. Title, but Will Remain Chairman

After 14 years of building up the Alibaba Group into one of the biggest Internet companies in the world, Jack Ma is taking a step back from the chief executive role of the Chinese e-commerce giant.

But Mr. Ma isn’t leaving entirely, holding onto the role of executive chairman, he told DealBook in an interview on Monday. He plans to name his successor when his title change becomes effective on May 10.

He won’t be the only one to hand over some of the company’s reins. Mr. Ma said that most of Alibaba’s leaders “born in the 1960s” will pass their leadership 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,” he wrote in an e-mail to employees explaining his change in duties.

The shift is the biggest change yet at Alibaba in some time, as it continues to ready itself for the next chapter of its existence. Last week, the company said that it was cleaving itself into 25 smaller divisions — to give managers more flexibility.

And it follows the transformative deal that Alibaba struck with Yahoo last year, in which the Chinese company agreed to buy back about half of the stake in itself held by its American partner. Alibaba had long sought to repurchase the shares to help regain control over its own corporate destiny.

For Mr. Ma, the decision to step back from day-to-day management was born of several reasons. One of them was personal: The job is increasingly tiring.

“I’m 48. I’m no longer young enough to run such a fast-growing business,” Mr. Ma said in the interview. “When I was 35, I was so energetic and fresh-thinking. I had nothing to worry about.”

Come May, Mr. Ma will slide into the role of executive chairman, which he said will let him focus on broad strategic issues, as well as corporate development and social responsibility.

It is a move that the entrepreneur said has been in the works for some time. He has been training “a few candidates” among the younger generation for the chief executive position.

Speculation about who precisely will take over will likely focus on the current heads of Alibaba’s biggest businesses, including, an online market for small businesses; Taobao, an enormous consumer shopping site; and Alipay, an online payment platform.

Stepping down so early will give that individual time to grow into the role, Mr. Ma said. That could be important when Alibaba finally goes public, sometime down the road. Mr. Ma added that the exact timing or other details of an initial offering haven’t yet been determined.

Until then, Mr. Ma will remain a powerful figure within the company he founded.

“I will still be very active,” he said. “It is impossible for me to retire.”


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