Jack Ma — the most flamboyant tech founder on the planet, and China’s richest man — steps down from his $460bn Alibaba empire after 20 years

Jack Ma — the flamboyant tech personality, and currently the richest man in China— is stepping down from his $460 billion Alibaba empire 20 years after he founded the company.

Ma is stepping down as the chairman of Alibaba Group on Tuesday, his 55th birthday, as part of a long-planned succession scheme. It is the world's largest e-commerce group, with more than triple the total reported sales of Amazon for 2018.

A former English teacher, Ma founded the company with 17 others in 1999. It began as a company that sold Chinese goods around the world, but shifted its focus to the domestic Chinese market as the country's economy boomed.

It later expanded into online banking, artificial intelligence, and entertainment.

The company's 2014 IPO remains the biggest in history at $25 billion. Ma is currently worth $38.6 billion, according to Bloomberg's Billionaires Index. His net worth is the highest of anybody else in China, and 21st in the world.

The company now employs more than 100,000 people, according to Reuters.

While he is stepping down from a major leadership role, Ma said he will take a position in Alibaba's "partnership", a 38-person body that has an indirect role in the governance of the group.

Jack Ma.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Daniel Zhang, who has been CEO of Alibaba since 2015, has been handpicked by Ma to take over, though he is unlikely to match Ma's famous flamboyance.

Ma has starred in a kung fu movie, performed at a music festival, and once performed at a company party while dressed as Michael Jackson.

Ma is also known for the extravagant events he holds for employees during Alibaba's annual "Singles Day" shopping event, which outstrips Amazon's Prime Day for sales. The event has featured performers including Mariah Carey and a the Cirque du Soleil.

And Ma also doesn't hold back for "Ali Day," which celebrates employees and their families and even includes Ma officiating at a lavish, mass employee wedding.

Read more: Inside Alibaba's bizarre mass wedding for employees, which is presided over by Jack Ma

His style has also made its way into his resignation plans, which involve a farewell party at an 80,000-seat stadium in Hangzhou, the city where he founded the company decades ago, Reuters reported.

Jack Ma presided over an employee mass wedding of 102 couples.

REUTERS/Stringer

Alibaba shared on Monday a video of Ma returning to that apartment, where he recalled telling early employees: "This is the place we're going to work for a year probably. We're going to eat here. We're going to sleep here. We're going to work day and night here.

"And we will probably achieve something. Or probably, we'll have to go out looking for jobs together."

He said their goal then was to be in the top 10 of the world's most popular websites, and to empower small businesses.

Zhang, Ma's successor, will also face challenges as the industry faces the ongoing trade war between the US and China and a slowdown in the Chinese e-commerce industry.

Liu Yiming, an analyst at Chinese tech publishing group 36kr, told Reuters: "If Alibaba wants to find new innovations or trends this is going to be more difficult than before."

"For Daniel Zhang, this will be a big challenge."

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