One of China's best-known corporate leaders and billionaire businessman, Jack Ma, will be stepping down as the chief executive officer of Alibaba, the hugely successful e-commerce firm he founded to tap the nation's enormous online shopping potential.
He intends to pass the reins to "a younger, better equipped" generation. Ma said that he would appoint a successor and act only as an executive chairman from 10 May, 2013.
"As a founder and chief executive officer, stepping down is a difficult and emotional decision. It's not because I wanted to take things easy, it's 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," Ma wrote in an e-mail to his employees.
Ma, a former tour guide and English teacher and self-styled "China's Forrest Gump," said most of Alibaba's leaders were "born in the 1960s" and they would also be passing their leadership responsibilities to younger colleagues.
China is the world's biggest Internet market with more than 500 million users with the market expected to grow even further as more users in rural areas get access to the Internet.
Ma founded the group on the principle of championing small businesses, the bedrock of China's economy. In the battle against industry giants, Ma's gumption and brash hopefulness made him a cult figure among local entrepreneurs, taxi drivers and other ordinary Chinese citizens.
Ma, reckoned to be worth over $3 billion by Forbes in 2012, built his e-commerce empire from scratch and has steered it through numerous bumps.
In an interview with The New York Times, 48-year-old Ma admitted that he was feeling the strain. "When I was 35, I was so energetic and fresh-thinking. I had nothing to worry about," he said, adding he would focus in his new role on broad strategic issues, corporate development and social responsibility.
"The biggest challenge a new chief executive officer faces is making sure the new business units can effectively coordinate among themselves," said Yang Xiao, a Beijing-based analyst with research firm Analysys (News - Alert) International. "Jack Ma may not be running the day-to-day activities, but he will still have an influence in where the company should be headed," said Frederick Wong, the executive director of Avant Capital Management (HK).
"I will still be very active, it is impossible for me to retire," Ma said.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman