Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma to retire

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Ma's announcement was somewhat unorthodox; the Times is blocked in China by Communist Party censors, while there was no official statement from Alibaba. He will focus on his Jack Ma Foundation and dedicate his time to improving education, he told the Times. Ma will remain on Alibaba's board of directors and continue to mentor the company's management. "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. Morley brought young Ma to Australia in 1985 for his first overseas trip, when he spent almost a month in Newcastle, an experience which the Chinese businessman said had "totally changed my future". "I love education", he said. He is a cult figure in China's internet industry and has attracted a large following among entrepreneurs and in pop culture alike. It grew into one of the world's largest online retailers, earning it comparisons to US -based Amazon. Alibaba has more than 86,000 employees on staff.

Ma will announce the plan on his 54th birthday and the handover strategy will stretch over a significant period of time, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) newspaper reported citing a company spokesman.

Although he was no longer in charge of the day-to-day running of the company, Ma continued to be Alibaba's guiding hand and its most recognized face.

After being knocked back by USA venture capitalists in 1999, a cash-strapped Ma persuaded friends to give him $60,000 to start Alibaba, which operated out of an apartment in Hangzhou. It is still reeling from allegations of rape against Amazon rival's chief executive Richard Liu. Numerous co-founders are still around, and professionals who joined the company later are now in charge. Alibaba, while hugely successful in China, it's not known as well overseas and the company has been looking for ways to raise its global profile.

"I think some day, and soon, I'll go back to teaching".

He is one of the most colourful of China's growing crop of billionaires, performing a Michael Jackson-inspired dance routine at the company's 18th anniversary celebration a year ago, and starring in his own kung fu short film.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV this week, Ma signalled he was thinking about focusing more on philanthropy.