Alibaba chairman and co-founder Jack Ma has left the global e-commerce giant earlier today, marking the end of a 20-year journey that has seen the company and himself become a worldwide business icon.
The company started in 1999, and has grown to become one of the world’s most successful and largest internet-based firms.
China’s richest man, with a personal wealth exceeding £31bn, will now be replaced as chairman by Daniel Zhang, who will now lead the Chinese company valued at £390bn.
Zhang developed the company’s Singles’ Day promotion, which is the world’s biggest one-day online retail event.
To mark the end of an era, the Alibaba Group have been cataloguing Ma’s history with the firm.
Alibaba History: 20 Years in 3 Minutes. From e-commerce to New Retail, a look back at two decades of major milestones for the company. pic.twitter.com/TlijjTBNPP
— Alibaba Group (@AlibabaGroup) September 10, 2019
Dr Simon Hayward, CEO of leadership consultancy Cirrus and author of The Agile Leader
When it comes to leadership succession planning in our own organisations, there are some valuable lessons we can learn from Jack Ma.
In my experience, many CEOs and senior leaders find it difficult to let go so others can take responsibility. To secure sustainable, long-term success leaders need to devolve decision-making across the organisation while they’re still ‘in charge’. This prevents an over-reliance on people at the top. Think about the decisions only you can make, and delegate the rest.
Jack Ma co-founded Alibaba in 1999 and handed over the CEO reins in 2013. Alibaba’s sprawling businesses are now managed by a network of senior leaders. The spirit of partnership and collaboration has always been strong across the organisation, and Ma has long been renowned for his inclusive style of leadership.
Some leaders cite colleagues’ lack of capability as a reason not to empower them. As a leader, it is your responsibility to develop the leadership capability of others – to nurture talent across the business and encourage others to step up and drive growth and performance improvement.
Although most organisations understand the importance of developing a rich leadership pipeline, many could do more to offer the sort of challenging experiences that take future leaders out of their comfort zones so that they develop new, more innovative ways of working.
Former teacher Ma has spoken about the importance of developing human creativity in a digital age. ‘Education is a big challenge,’ he said, ‘If we don’t change the way we teach, we will be in big trouble in 30 years from now.’
Perhaps most importantly, Jack Ma has been completely open about his succession plan. This is reassuring for colleagues, customers and stakeholders. It builds confidence and removes uncertainty, which ultimately can help avert dips in share price, lapses in loyalty, and bad press.