Alibaba Group's Jack Ma will step down from his position as CEO of the Chinese e-commerce giant in May, to help usher in its next generation of leaders. But he will stay on as executive chairman to focus on company strategy.
Ma, who helped found Alibaba in 1999, said he was leaving at the age of 48 because he no longer felt young in today's Internet business, according to a post on the company's Alizila site. He will formally step down on May 10, when a successor could be named.
Ma said he expects Alibaba's new generation of leaders to be "better equipped" to lead the company. But he will remain as the company's full-time chairman, with one of his roles devoted to developing Alibaba managerial personnel.
A former English teacher, Ma led Alibaba to become China's largest e-commerce company, besting eBay and other local competitors wanting a piece of the Chinese market. The company established both Taobao Marketplace and Tmall, two of China's most popular online retail sites. For the first 11 months of last year, gross merchandise volume for the two sites surpassed 1 trillion yuan (US$159 billion).
Ma made the announcement after Alibaba said last week it would reorganize itself from seven business units into 25 smaller groups in order to improve operations at the company.
Although Ma is stepping down as CEO, he could still be heavily involved in Alibaba's operations, said Mark Natkin, managing director for Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting.
"I think the company will continue to perform well," he said. "In general, I don't think he would transition to chairman if he didn't feel confident that his current managers would do a good job."
But despite Alibaba's success under Ma, the company has also faced scandal and public relation challenges. In 2011, the company announced that it's business-to-business trading platform Alibaba.com had been embroiled in a major fraud case, which caused the exit of senior executives.
"You're going to have some scandal, and you're going to have some PR issues. I don't think that's entirely avoidable," Natkin said. "The real question is have users been put off using their services, and I think the answer is clearly no."