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Retiring at 53, Alibaba’s Jack Ma finds a way to one-up Bill Gates

Got him!
Got him!
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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Update: The South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, refuted the claim reported by The New York Times this week that Jack Ma would be stepping down as executive chairman. “An Alibaba spokesman said Ma remains the company’s executive chairman and will provide transition plans over a significant period of time, contrary to a New York Times article that said he was ‘stepping down’ to ‘retire,'”  the Post said. “The Times story was taken out of context and factually wrong, the spokesman said.” Ma was quoted as saying: “Anybody who knows me knows I embrace the future. This is not about retiring, stepping away, or backing off. This is a systematic plan.”

Jack Ma is stepping down from Alibaba, the $420 billion internet behemoth he built into China’s largest e-commerce company. His next move?

Education.

Following in the footsteps of Bill Gates, Ma, who is China’s richest man, plans to dedicate himself to the Jack Ma Foundation. He’ll have $40 billion at his disposal. While that’s less than Gate’s estimated $95.5 billion, Ma will have one-upped Gates in one way: retiring at age 53, five years before Gates stepped down as chairman of Microsoft at the age of 58, in 2014.

“There’s a lot of things I can learn from Bill Gates. I can never be as rich, but one thing I can do better is to retire earlier,” Ma said in an interview with Bloomberg TV this week. “I think someday, and soon, I’ll go back to teaching. This is something I think I can do much better than being CEO of Alibaba.”

The former English teacher, who twice failed the national university exam, started Alibaba out of his apartment in 1999 as an online marketplace. It took off in 2003 as a freewheeling site for wholesalers and manufacturers to sell directly to customers. Payment service Alipay (now Ant Financial) followed, and the company now has interests that span from cloud computing to social media.

“I was not considered a good student but I improved, we keep on learning all the time,” Ma told Bloomberg TV. In an interview with the New York Times (paywall) on Friday, he called his decision “the beginning of an era.”

Correction: A previous version of this post stated Jack Ma’s age as 52. It is 53.