Alibaba's Jack Ma to stand down as CEO, move to chairman role

Tue Jan 15, 2013 6:46am EST
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By Lee Chyen Yee

HONG KONG (Reuters) - One of China's best known corporate leaders, billionaire Jack Ma, will step down as CEO of Alibaba Group, the e-commerce empire he founded to tap the nation's enormous online shopping potential, passing the reins to "a younger, better equipped" generation.

Ma, a former tour guide and English teacher and self-styled "China's Forrest Gump", said he would name a successor by May 10, when he switches to the role of executive chairman. He said most of Alibaba's leaders "born in the 1960s" would also pass their leadership responsibilities to younger colleagues.

"As a founder CEO, stepping down ... is a difficult decision. It's not because I wanted to take things easy (though the job of Alibaba CEO is no easy task), 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 employees. Reuters obtained the letter on Tuesday from a source close to Alibaba.

The shift is a significant one for Alibaba and follows moves announced last week to chop the group into more than two dozen smaller divisions — to give managers more flexibility. China's big Internet firms such as Baidu Inc and Tencent Holdings are under pressure from startups, and have restructured.

It also comes after a transformative deal Alibaba struck last year to buy back about half the stake in itself held by Yahoo Inc. Alibaba had long sought to buy back the shares to regain control over its own corporate destiny.

Yahoo paid around $1 billion for a 40 percent stake in Alibaba in 2005, but ties were strained and the U.S. group's shareholders last year agitated to unlock the value of Asian assets such as Alibaba.

In an interview with The New York Times, 48-year-old Ma acknowledged 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.

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

Chairman and Chief Executive of Alibaba Group Jack Ma delivers a speech at the 8th Netrepreneur Summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province September 10, 2011. REUTERS/Lang Lang