Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba has revealed its succession plan; Jack Ma will step down as executive chairman of the company he founded in 1999 one year from today.

Ma made the announcement today, his 54th birthday, in a letter to Alibaba’s customers, employees and shareholders.

Alibaba’s CEO Daniel Zhang will succeed Ma as chairman of the board of Alibaba Group. Zhang was appointed CEO in May 2015 and has been with the company for the past 11 years.

Ma, who handed over CEO responsibilities in 2013, will still sit on the board of directors until its annual general meeting of shareholders in 2020.

“No company can rely solely on its founders. Of all people, I should know that. Because of physical limits on one’s ability and energy, no one can shoulder the responsibilities of chairman and CEO forever,” Ma wrote.

The decision is a result of 10 years of planning, Ma said, made possible by the company culture and structure put in place over the last decade.

“This transition demonstrates that Alibaba has stepped up to the next level of corporate governance from a company that relies on individuals, to one built on systems of organisational excellence and a culture of talent development,” Ma wrote.

The charismatic leader founded the Chinese internet company 19 years ago and is now China’s richest man.

“The responsible thing to do for me and the company to do is to let younger, more talented people take over in leadership roles so that they inherit our mission “to make it easy to do business anywhere,” Ma wrote.

A former teacher and founder of the Jack Ma Foundation, Ma said he plans to return to education. “The world is big, and I am still young, so I want to try new things – because what if new dreams can be realised?! “

Over the weekend The New York Time reported Ma would be retiring, but the company said the process of Ma stepping away from Alibaba would be more gradual.

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