HONG KONG — Alibaba’s co-founder and executive chairman, Jack Ma, said he planned to step down from the Chinese e-commerce giant on Monday to pursue philanthropy in education, a changing of the guard for the $420 billion internet company.
A former English teacher, Mr. Ma started Alibaba in 1999 and built it into one of the world’s most consequential e-commerce and digital payments companies, transforming how Chinese people shop and pay for things. That fueled his net worth to more than $40 billion, making him China’s richest man. He is revered by many Chinese, some of whom have put his portrait in their homes to worship in the same way that they worship the God of Wealth.
Mr. Ma is retiring as China’s business environment has soured, with Beijing and state-owned enterprises increasingly playing more interventionist roles with companies. Under President Xi Jinping, China’s internet industry has grown and become more important, prompting the government to tighten its leash. The Chinese economy is also facing slowing growth and increasing debt, and the country is embroiled in an escalating trade war with the United States.
“He’s a symbol of the health of China’s private sector and how high they can fly whether he likes it or not,” Duncan Clark, author of the book “Alibaba: The House Jack Ma Built,” said of Mr. Ma. “His retirement will be interpreted as frustration or concern whether he likes it or not.”