China’s richest man said that he would remain on Alibaba’s board of directors as he pursues philanthropic endeavors, the New York Times reported. Ma told Bloomberg earlier this week that he planned to retire and wanted to dedicate more of his time and fortune to philanthropy with the creation of a foundation in his own name focused on education, following in the footsteps of fellow billionaire Bill Gates.
Ma said there are a lot of things he could learn from Bill Gates. “I can never be as rich,” but “I can retire earlier,” he said in the interview. Ma said he could soon “go back to teaching. This is something I think I can do much better than being CEO of Alibaba.”
Spokesmen for Alibaba couldn’t immediately comment on the report on Saturday.
Even after stepping down as chief executive officer in 2013, the former English teacher remains the public face of a company with a market value of more than $400 billion and interests spanning e-commerce and Hollywood film production to cloud computing and online payments. During his time as chairman, he helped guide growth at home and overseas while spearheading its 2014 initial public offering, the biggest ever.
Ma, who turns 54 on Monday, has a net worth of more than $40 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. While Ma sees himself as an accidental executive who only entered the business world with Alibaba’s founding almost 20 years ago, he has become one of China’s most recognized corporate leaders.
He didn’t indicate if he would give away his money or put it into a trust as other billionaires have done.
“You’ll know very soon. I’ve prepared a Jack Ma Foundation,” Ma said. “All these things that I’ve been preparing for 10 years.”
Alibaba has one of the strongest management teams in corporate China and even if he steps down, Ma is likely to still have a role in setting top level strategy, said Brock Silvers, managing director of Kaiyuan Capital.
“When Jack Ma speaks longingly of retirement from Alibaba, there’s no reason not to take him at his word,” said Silvers. “On a day-to-day basis, Alibaba shareholders probably have little to fear should the charismatic Ma pull back a bit further.”
A focus on education wouldn’t surprise keen followers of Ma, who has spoken frequently of its importance to him and some of his shortcomings as a student, including failing China’s national university exam twice.
“I was not considered a good student but I improved, we keep on learning all the time. So I want to devote most my time to this,” Ma said.
During his time as chairman, he has helped guide growth at home and overseas while also spearheading its 2014 initial public offering, the biggest ever. Ma was among the first foreign business leaders to meet with Donald Trump after his election.