Jack Ma eases out of a thriving Alibaba

Shanghai: Jack Ma steps down next week as chairman of Alibaba, but the start-up he built into and online retail behemoth is expected to keep thriving into a new era thanks to a culture of innovation he helped nurture.

A former English teacher whose often playful image shattered the stereotype of the drab Chinese executive, Ma officially leaves on Tuesday, his 55th birthday.

Ma plans to put his vast fortune - among China's biggest at USD 41 billion - into initiatives serving his first love, education, following the footsteps of a fellow tech innovator he admires: Bill Gates.

The departure of charismatic founders from big tech companies typically causes hand-wringing and wobbling share prices, but not at Alibaba.

The company's operational reins have for a couple of years now been in the hands of a respected team of executives who have kept it on e-commerce's cutting-edge.

Ma was Alibaba's driving force and a frequently irreverent ambassador for the company, known for stunts like a Michael Jackson-inspired dance at an Alibaba anniversary celebration two years ago and starring in his own kung fu short film.

He is expected to retain some advisory functions. But the transition to figures like CEO Daniel Zhang, and co-founder and executive vice chairman Joseph Tsai -- announced exactly a year ago -- may prove to be the "gold standard" for tech-company succession, said Jeffrey Towson, an equity investor and professor at Peking University.

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