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Notably, while Ma had stepped down as the Alibaba CEO nearly eight years back, he remained the face of the company at top political and business events and he played an important role in devising the company's long term strategy.

Talking exclusively to The New York Times, Jack Ma said that his retirement will mark the beginning of a new era.

After being knocked back by USA venture capitalists in 1999, cash-strapped Chinese entrepreneur Ma persuaded friends to give him $60,000 to start an e-commerce firm called Alibaba. "I'm sure he'll be just as involved as he has been in his chairman role, even if he doesn't have the formal title", Kevin Carter, founder of The Emerging Markets Internet exchange-trade fund, told the news agency.

Ma's retirement comes after a torrid couple of weeks for his rival tech CEOs in China. "I've prepared a Jack Ma Foundation", Ma said. Monday is his 54th birthday, and the Chinese holiday Teacher's Day, making the announcement particularly timely.

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"I don't think it means that much, frankly". Under President Xi Jinping, China's internet industry has grown and become more important, prompting the government to tighten its leash.

Ma is part of a generation of billionaire entrepreneurs who made their fortunes as China embraced the digital age, creating some of the country's largest and most successful companies in the space of little more than a decade. Previous year he met with US President Donald Trump, who described him as "smart" and "open minded". One of those is entertainment, through its Alibaba Pictures arm, which owns a stake in Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, and through its hugely popular movie-ticket sales app, Tao Piao Piao. China's biggest e-commerce firm, it now has more than 66,000 full-time employees, the company's latest annual filing showed. His own worth has soared along with that of the company, which was valued at $420.8 billion based on its share price at the close of trading on Friday.

Ma is stepping back at a tricky time for Chinese tech firms.

Ma's decision also comes as a USA police investigation into an allegation of rape against Richard Liu, had of top rival JD.com Inc (JD.O), hammered its shares. Liu, who goes by Richard Liu in the English-speaking world, was arrested on a rape allegation in Minneapolis during a business trip. It reported a total revenue of 158 billion ($23 billion) last fiscal year.


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