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Jack Ma on his departure: ‘Alibaba is just one of my many dreams’

Krystal Hu

Jack Ma wants a smooth transition out of the tech empire he founded 20 years ago, and on Tuesday, he made it happen with a Rock ‘n’ Roll finale.

One year after announcing a succession plan, the chairman of Alibaba (BABA) officially handed the reins over to Daniel Zhang, who has been the CEO of Alibaba since 2015. At Alibaba’s 20th anniversary party in Hangzhou, Alibaba’s headquarters, over 140,000 employees and clients gathered to watch Ma, wearing a studded leather jacket and wig, end his legendary career by singing an inspirational Chinese rock song, “A Life in Full Bloom.”

Jack Ma performs onstage during Alibaba's 20th anniversary party at a stadium in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

He also sang “You Raise Me Up” with the incoming chairman Zhang. Zhang is known as the brains behind Singles Day, the biggest shopping holiday in the world that brought in $30.8 billion in sales last year.

Ma, who has a strong interest in music and movies, is known for performing at Alibaba’s anniversary galas. Two years ago, the video of Ma dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” in the signature golden outfit went viral.

“Alibaba is just one of my many dreams,” Ma said on stage before his performance. “The world is so good. I live a busy and active life and there are so many opportunities. I wouldn't retire when I am so young.”

In his farewell speech, the 55-year-old entrepreneur spoke highly of the succession plan he helped put into place, and promoted opportunities to serve consumers in China as well as globalization.

Ma said he had been thinking about the succession plan for 10 years to ensure Alibaba can carry on the corporate culture he helped build. In 2010, Alibaba introduced a unique governance body called Lakeside Partners. The group currently consists of 36 people, including original founding members and senior management. The partners have the exclusive right to nominate a simple majority of Alibaba’s board of directors, subject to shareholders’ approval during the annual general meeting.

Ma’s future

Despite the well-planned farewell, Ma is likely to continue to have an influence on Alibaba going forward. Most partners will leave the group once they leave Alibaba, except Ma and vice executive chairman, Joe Tsai. The company’s board structure enables partners to assert control over a majority of the board, despite their minority equity positions. Ma, who will also serve on the company’s board of directors until next year, now holds 6.2% of Alibaba shares, according to latest filings.

The vision Ma and his partners established for Alibaba is to serve 2 billion customers by 2036 and keep the company alive for at least 102 years, so its lifespan can spread across three centuries. The company also recently published a new set of corporate values, including putting customers first, employees second and shareholders third.

September 10 is not only Ma’s birthday (he turned 55), but it is also known as Teacher’s Day in China. The former English teacher said he will focus on philanthropy and education going forward, areas that he has already been working in the past few years. On Weibo, China’s Twitter, Ma’s account name is Village Teacher Ma Yun. He has over 24 million followers.

Krystal Hu covers technology and China for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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