Alibaba CEO Zhang to succeed Jack Ma as chairman

Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma gestures as he attends the 11th World Trade Organization's ministerial conference in Buenos Aires Argentina

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba announced Monday that chief executive Daniel Zhang will succeed Jack Ma as chairman of the board next September, confirming the celebrity billionaire's plans to gradually depart the business he founded in 1999.

Mr Ma, one of China's richest men, will hand over the reins to Daniel Zhang, now Alibaba's chief executive. "But for a company of Alibaba's size, it's a process that will take 10 years to complete", he said. "The one thing I can promise everyone is this: Alibaba was never about Jack Ma, but Jack Ma will forever belong to Alibaba".

He bought his first computer at the age of 33 and was surprised when no Chinese beers turned up in his first online search for "beer".

The company needs "younger and more talented" people to take over its leadership roles so they can inherit Alibaba's mission to make it easy to do business anywhere, Ma noted. The Hurun Report, which follows China's wealthy, estimates his net worth at 37 billion U.S. dollars (£28.65 billion).

The luxury company Kering, owner of brands including Gucci and Saint Laurent, accused Alibaba in a 2015 lawsuit of facilitating counterfeit sales.

The company's $25 billion initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in September 2014 was the biggest to date by a Chinese company.

Corporate governance specialists also questioned the unusual structure of the Alibaba Partnership, which gives Ma and a group of executives more control over the company than shareholders. He is credited with leading the retailer's push into mobile, and with building its "11.11" sale - the November event that became a massive hit with Alibaba's online shoppers.

The statement did not specify exactly what Ma planned to do after stepping down but it said he wants to "return to education".

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The NYT report was quickly denied by Alibaba whose spokesman told the Post on Saturday that Mr. Ma remains the company's executive chairman and will provide transition plans over a significant period of time.

At this time, Ma's exact retirement plans are unclear, however, he reportedly plans to spend his time focusing on charity projects and those dealing with education in particular.

"I still have lots of dreams to pursue", the former teacher said in his statement.

"He's mild mannered, he's more Clark Kent, and Jack's the Superman", said Duncan Clark, the author of "Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built".

In January past year, Mr Ma said he had had a "great meeting" in NY with then US President-elect, Donald Trump. "But it's his thoughtfulness and humility that is most impressive as a leader", he said.

Mr Ma had pledged to help USA businesses create a million new jobs by using his website to sell to China. Recently, Ma has been taking full advantage of his fame, belting out "Unchained Melody" at a Chinese music festival, doing his best Michael Jackson impression at Alibaba's birthday bash previous year, and even starring in his own kung-fu flick alongside the likes of Jet Li and Donnie Yen.

The colourful and charismatic co-founder of Alibaba appears to revel in the limelight. Ma even did a Michael Jackson-themed dance routine at an Alibaba anniversary event past year, complete with a costume. He even starred in a short kung fu movie.

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