Jack Ma to Hand Alibaba's Helm to CEO Daniel Zhang Next Year

Jack Ma, a former English teacher who helped found Alibaba two decades ago, outlined plans to hand the executive chairman role to Daniel Zhang, according to Bloomberg.

Ma will officially pass the baton in exactly 12 months’ time, on his 55th birthday, but will remain on the board until 2020. He now intends to focus on philanthropy and education but also pursue unspecified “new dreams,” he said in a statement.

China’s richest man has become synonymous with turning the company that started in his Hangzhou apartment into a global e-commerce giant with burgeoning cloud computing and package delivery businesses. Ma’s 46-year-old successor has pushed Alibaba deeper into the wallets of Chinese consumers as it bought and transformed brick-and-mortar outlets.

“Starting the process of passing the Alibaba torch to Daniel and his team is the right decision at the right time, because I know from working with them that they are ready,” Ma said in the statement. “Since he took over as CEO, he has demonstrated his superb talent, business acumen and determined leadership.” The succession plan will unite Alibaba’s two biggest roles for the first time since Ma gave up his CEO title in 2013 to focus on being chairman.

Zhang joined Taobao in 2007 as chief financial officer of the consumer-to-consumer marketplace. He pioneered the company’s push into getting established brands to sell to customers and is credited with helping turn Singles’ Day into a Chinese shopping bonanza. Zhang’s appointment may come as a surprise to those accustomed to tracking Ma’s other high-profile lieutenants, such as Vice Chairman Joseph Tsai.

Ma is moving on with Alibaba in a dominant position in China and pushing into overseas markets from Southeast Asia to Russia. Leadership will now fall to Zhang and the 35 other partners who control the company. The company has a strong management team and Ma is likely to still have a role in setting top level strategy.

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