Five things about Alibaba's Jack Ma

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The co-founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba and one of China's best-known businessmen, Jack Ma, is stepping down.

Alibaba said chief executive Daniel Zhang would succeed Mr Ma as chairman of the board in a year's time. He will leave on his 55th birthday on 10 September, 2019 - making him the first founder among a generation of prominent Chinese internet entrepreneurs to step down from his company.

Here are five things to know about Jack Ma.

1) He was an English teacher

Born to a poor family in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, Mr Ma began his career as an English teacher before becoming a self-made dotcom billionaire.

Mr Ma struggled at school and was rejected for 30 different jobs, including one at KFC.

He bought his first computer at the age of 33 and was surprised when no Chinese beers turned up in his first online search for "beer".

With no background in computing, Mr Ma co-founded Alibaba in his apartment nearly two decades ago, having convinced a group of friends to invest in his online marketplace.

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Known as the 'Steve Jobs of China', Jack Ma owns nearly 9% of e-commerce giant Alibaba

2) He's extremely rich

He owns nearly 9% of Alibaba, which is now worth $420bn.

Through Alibaba, Mr Ma became a major disrupter who created new markets by reinventing retailing and finance in China.

With a marketing phenomenon known as Singles' Day, the company eclipses the two biggest shopping events in the US - Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

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Jack Ma says he wants to return to education because this is what he 'loves to do'.

3) He gives away a lot

Having first started thinking about his succession plan 10 years ago, Mr Ma began retreating from the company in 2013, when he stepped down as chief executive officer to become chairman.

He said he wanted to dedicate more time to philanthropy through the Jack Ma Foundation. Three years later, the foundation for education pledged to donate $30m to a 10-year initiative to support teaching in rural China.

While he plans to continue his role as the founding partner in the Alibaba Partnership, he now wants to return to what he "loves to do" - education.

Mr Ma said recently in an interview with Bloomberg that "there's a lot of things I can learn from Bill Gates", who also founded his own philanthropic foundation before stepping down as chief executive of Microsoft.

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Jack Ma pledged to help create a million US jobs after a meeting with then President-elect Donald Trump.

4) Trump seems to like him

After the meeting he said that they had both agreed that US-China relations "should be strengthened, should be more friendly and do better".

At the time, Mr Trump hailed Jack Ma as a "great, great entrepreneur, one of the best in the world", who loves both the US and China.

Mr Ma had pledged to help US businesses create a million new jobs by using his website to sell to China.

He is retiring at a time when Chinese manufacturers and businesses are facing immense challenges from the US trade war with China.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Jack Ma appeared at an Alibaba event in 2017, in an outfit inspired by Michael Jackson

5) He likes the limelight

The colourful and charismatic co-founder of Alibaba appears to revel in the limelight.

In 2017, Mr Ma turned the firm's anniversary celebrations into a "Thriller" event, with a performance inspired by Michael Jackson.

Last year, he made his acting debut with his first kung fu short film Gong Shou Dao, in which he sparred with martial arts master Jet Li.

He is not only a fan of martial arts but has been practising tai chi for more than 30 years.

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