A successful entrepreneur not only creates wealth for themselves but also brings about profound changes to society. A larger-than-life person, Ma is idolised by some and criticised by others for conniving at the infringement of copyright, his flamboyant style and being headstrong on the strength of his money. However, most people will agree that Ma is a visionary and perspicacious trail-blazer. To Hong Kong stock investors, the most memorable thing about Ma was the controversy over whether to introduce a Weighted Voting Rights (WVR) mechanism, which resulted in Alibaba going public in the US instead of Hong Kong. However, to move with the times in the innovation and technology sector, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing changed the listing rules earlier this year by allowing WVR arrangements. Ma's influences over mainland people's daily lives can even be described as far-reaching. In recent years, Ma has often accompanied leaders of the national government on their foreign visits, and prominent politicians from countries all around the world have expressed their wishes to meet with Ma on their own initiatives. It can be said that Ma is an extremely influential individual in modern China.
Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and Jingdong, collectively known as "BATJ", are the four giants in the field of innovation and technology in mainland China. Ma, who used to be an English teacher, founded Alibaba 19 years ago and made a foray into electronic commerce. He founded Taobao subsequently, which became the biggest online shopping platform on the mainland within just two years. Alibaba's scope of business expanded, covering not only electronic commerce but also other industries. From Alipay, which was intended to address the safety issue of online transactions, to Ant Financial, Alibaba has gained a foothold in the banking and insurance industries. By starting as an internet company and participating in industries ranging from finance, entertainment and the media, Alibaba has adopted a developmental mode that has turned these industries upside down, altered the business models of all industries and changed the consumption patterns of Chinese people. Alibaba has a market value of over US$400 billion, and Ma has become a household name with a personal worth of over US$40 billion. That Ma has decided to retire at the age of just 54 is very unusual in the sector of mainland private enterprises, and it has rightly attracted a lot of discussions.
In China, many enterprises find it hard to sustain their initial success even though they took the world by storm at the beginning. The founder of a company might be a person of sound judgement, but sooner or later he or she has to leave. For a Chinese enterprise to reach new heights, it is necessary to create a sound corporate culture and perfect the management system. Obviously, Ma has put in a lot of effort in this regard.
As Ma will remain one of the partners, he will have intangible influence on the company even after he resigns as chairman of the board of directors. Alibaba has also stressed that Ma will continue to take part in the operations of the company, hoping that that can ease investors' concerns. It remains to be seen whether Alibaba can reach new heights without Ma. However, if Chinese enterprises are to develop maturely, the strengthening of corporate culture and institution-building are obviously a necessary trial.