"I still have lots of dreams to pursue", the former teacher said in his statement.
A devotee of Chinese martial art form Tai Chi, Ma started Alibaba in 1999 from his modest apartment in Hangzhou, the capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, with 17 other people (remember that Jeff Bezos started Amazon from a garage in Seattle).
To ensure a "smooth and successful transition", Ma added that he will remain in his current role until September 10, 2019 and stay on the Alibaba board of directors until the 2020 annual shareholder meetings are concluded.
Since Zhang, known as Zhang Yong in mainland China, was named chief executive in May 2015, Alibaba has seen consistent and sustainable growth for 13 consecutive quarters. He pioneered the company's push into getting established brands to sell to customers and is credited with helping turn Singles' Day into a Chinese shopping bonanza.
This day apparently comes as quite the relief for Ma. The company has grown to have more than 66,000 full-time employees and a market value of some $420 billion.
Ma, who turned 54 on Monday, became one of the world's richest entrepreneurs and one of China's best-known business figures. Leadership will now fall to Zhang and the 35 other partners who control the company.
Even as Alibaba was founded as a company that could last 102 years, Ma admitted that no company can rely exclusively on its founders.
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The group's e-tail portals Alibaba.com, Taobao, Tmall, and AliExpress together clock billions of dollars of sales each year.
Alibaba has since moved into cloud computing, digital payments, health care, Hollywood movies and backing China's startups.
Alibaba listed in NY in 2014 in what was then the world's biggest initial public offering of shares.
"He's mild mannered, he's more Clark Kent, and Jack's the Superman", said Duncan Clark, the author of "Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built".
Alibaba co-founder and executive chairman Jack Ma, 53, announced Friday that he's retiring from the e-commerce giant, according to The New York Times. He has created a foundation in his own name, modeled in part of the efforts of Microsoft Corp.co-founder and fellow billionaire Bill Gates. When I interviewed him previous year, for example, he said he'd been thinking about retirement since he turned 45 and that eventually younger people deserve a shot to lead.
I never thought that this thing would change my life.
Here are five things to know about Jack Ma.
Ma has remained the public face of Alibaba and is a charismatic advocate for his country's technology industry, showing off his wit and dispensing folksy wisdom on the global stage. "But it's his thoughtfulness and humility that is most impressive as a leader", he said. "Jack Ma is a guy with many ideas".
Ma also became one of the best-known Chinese businesspeople overseas. The U.S. Trade Representative's office has placed Alibaba's consumer-shopping site on a list of notorious markets. "He is very, very creative", Zhang said in an interview with the Financial Times previous year. Has Alibaba peaked? Does Ma think China has peaked?