Jack Ma, who has been CEO of Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba for the past 14 years (since it was founded in 1999), will step down on May 10 2013 but remain as company chairman — focusing on Alibaba’s strategic vision, talent development to grow the internal leadership team, and corporate social responsibility efforts. Alibaba’s new CEO will be announced when Ma steps down. The news was reported earlier by the New York Times.
Speaking to the newspaper in an email interview Ma said: “I’m 48. I’m no longer young enough to run such a fast-growing business. When I was 35, I was so energetic and fresh-thinking. I had nothing to worry about.”
Earlier this month Ma announced a major restructuring at Alibaba, to divide the company into 25 smaller business units, each led by a general manager, with the ostensible aim of increasing its flexibility so it could better respond to changes in the local ecommerce landscape. Ma did not mention that his own position was also set to change but a company spokesman told us at the time that the new business structure would also allow “young leadership to further grow and develop”.
Beyond age and lower energy levels, that focus on raising up the next generation apparently lies behind Ma’s decision to step back later this year. According to a source familiar with the matter, Alibaba employees born in the 70’s and 80’s are now in line to get their chance taking the reins within the company’s executive leadership team. Further leadership and management changes are also slated to be announced in future as part of this internal renewal process.
Ma announced his intention to step back in an internal company letter, shown to TechCrunch by a source close to the matter, in which he writes: “As a founder CEO, stepping down as CEO is a difficult decision, for this could be confounding especially for someone of my age who should be at the height of his career. It’s not because I wanted to take things easy… 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.”
“At 48, I am no longer ‘young’ for the Internet business. The next generation of Alibaba people are better equipped to manage an Internet ecosystem like ours,” Ma adds. “Today is just the first of countless leadership rotations and changes that will take place in the future. Today, Alibaba already has the capability, strength and responsibility to implement a good succession system.”
In the letter Ma also reveals that he has been considering stepping back to allow a succession to take place for “more than a year”, and that part of his reason for announcing his decision to step back several months before the due date is to encourage a successor to come forward.”I want to encourage our young leaders to step forward to ensure a smooth transition,” he writes. “Don’t worry, we are confident that we will be able to announce a new CEO on May 10th.”
A spokesperson for Alibaba said: “Jack’s letter speaks for itself.”