Jack Ma, the Co-founder of Chinese internet giant Alibaba, is planning to step down from the company to focus on philanthropy in education, according to a report by the New York Times.

Ma, who turned 54 on Monday, will remain on the company’s board of directors and will continue to guide the management team. Ma currently owns a 6.4 per cent stake in Alibaba, according to the company’s recent securities filings.

In 2013, Ma handed the chief executive reins to Daniel Zhang — previously the Chief Operating Officer of Alibaba’s B2C2C marketplace, Taobao — but continued to oversee the company’s long-term strategy.

Ma formed Alibaba with 17 other people in his apartment in Hangzhou, China, in 1999. A mere year later, Masayoshi Son, founder of Japanese telecom conglomerate Softbank, took a bet and invested US$20 million in the then-untested company; Son said the decision was made based on their “shared vision” and “charisma and leadership” as opposed to revenue statistics (the company had no revenue) or business plan.

The deal, considered one of the most, if not most, astute investments ever made, has helped propel Ma and Son to dizzying heights of success in the tech industry.

Son’s US$20 million stake in the company is worth about US$120 billion today. And Ma is now valued at US$38.6 billion. Alibaba’s market cap is valued at US$420 billion. In the fiscal year of 2018, it gained US$40 billion in revenue.

In recent years, Alibaba turned its attention to Southeast Asia, which has seen an exponential rise in tech-savvy, smartphone-using, middle-class consumers. The region has also become a fishing ground for other Chinese tech giants such as JD.com and Tencent.

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In 2016, it acquired leading Southeast Asia-based e-commerce marketplace Lazada for US$1 billion and this year infused an additional US$2 billion (bringing its total stake to US$4 billion) installing one of its own lieutenants, Lucy Peng, as CEO of the company.

Last year, Alibaba made an investment in Southeast Asia ride-hailing giant Grab, intensifying its proxy war with Tencent, who is backing Grab’s rival, Go-Jek.

Besides investing in Southeast Asia-based tech firms, Alibaba is also working with various governments in the region.

Last year, it launched a joint initiative with Malaysia called the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ). This project aimed to build a regional distribution hub (e-hub) that includes a centralised customs clearance, warehousing and fulfilment facility so imports and exports to be processed quickly. The end goal was to help Malaysia grow its e-commerce industry; but with Najib Razak’s administration out of the picture now, that plan appears to be in limbo.

And last week, Alibaba said it would work with the Indonesian government to facilitate more exports, though no details were provided. It was reported that the deal would be firmed up when Ma visits in the country in October. So we can expect Ma to stay on till then.