China's richest man Jack Ma to retire early at 54

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Ma built the company into a multibillion-dollar internet colossus.

In an interview with The New York Times, Ma said it was time for him to focus on his first passion: education.

Liu was arrested and then released without charge in the USA city of Minneapolis last week.

While Ma sees himself as an accidental executive who only entered the business world with Alibaba's founding nearly 20 years ago, he has become one of China's most recognized corporate leaders. The Chinese e-commerce giant, since then is being managed by its current CEO Daniel Zhang, who is likely to succeed Ma after his retirement.

According to Alibaba's annual report filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Ma is a lifetime member of the Alibaba Partnership, a group of 36 senior managers who are responsible for maintaining the mission and culture of Alibaba.

Ma was born into a poor family in the city of Hangzhou in China's eastern Zhejiang province. But it did not take off until it began the Taobao marketplace in 2003, which merchants used to sell goods directly to consumers. Ma also controls Ant Financial, which was valued at about $150 billion after a recent fundraising round. On one hand, Chinese tech companies are facing increased scrutiny by the Chinese government led by President Xi Jinping, on the other hand, the tech firms are caught in an escalating trade war between the USA and China.

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Ma said the move will be "the beginning of an era" and revealed that he may now focus on education, which he "loves".

Today, Alibaba's empire encompasses e-commerce, online banking, cloud computing, digital media and entertainment - and even a corporate messaging service similar to Slack.

Alibaba reported roughly $40 billion (NZ$61.1 billion) in revenue past year. 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.

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

But in an interview with Bloomberg TV broadcast on Friday, Ma indicated that he had plans to soon retire and that he wanted to follow Microsoft founder Bill Gates as one of the world's most prolific philanthropists.