Some company founders stay on long past their prime, but not Jack Ma. The one-time English teacher who built Alibaba Group into one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies announced today he will resign as CEO on May 10, while remaining executive chairman.
“At 48 I am no longer young for the Internet business,” Ma wrote in an e-mail to the company’s 24,000 employees.
"Don't worry, we are confident that we will be able to announce a new CEO on May 10," Ma added. Jim Erickson, editor of the company’s Alizila blog, took that comment as an indication that Ma’s successor will come from within Alibaba. May 10 is the tenth anniversary of the launching of Taobao, the eBay-like marketplace that propelled Alibaba to e-commerce dominance in China.
Erickson also noted that Alibaba’s recent reorganization into 25 business units seemed to lessen the importance of the CEO in the day-to-day running of Alibaba.
Alibaba, which Ma founded in 1999, dominates online retailing in China through its two online marketplaces, Taobao and Tmall. Together, they accounted for more than 1 trillion yuan ($161 billion) in sales in the first eleven months of 2012. The company, which is privately held but expected to initiate a public offering of stock this year or next, has not announced full-year results.
Those two marketplaces account for roughly 80% of e-retail sales in China, according to most estimates. Online retail sales in China grew 53.7% to $124.2 billion in 2011, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce. At that growth rate, China could overtake the U.S. as the world’s leader in e-commerce in 2013.
Alibaba was valued at roughly $40 billion last year when it bought back about half of Yahoo Inc.’s share in the Chinese company. Alibaba executives claim that its online marketplaces account for a larger volume of sales than Amazon.com Inc. and eBay Inc. combined.
Alibaba has sought to polish its international reputation in recent years in advance of a possible IPO. That includes cracking down on sales of counterfeit or non-authorized trademarked goods on Taobao and Tmall, an effort that led the U.S. government late last year to remove Alibaba from its list of “notorious markets” where pirated goods are freely sold.
Ma began his e-mail by announcing his decision to relinquish the CEO post and adding that he had "looked forward to writing this letter for a long time, and this moment has finally arrived."
"I believe that doing what makes oneself happy, staying within one's own limits and being a good partner to one's more capable colleagues, is the right thing for me to do," Ma wrote.