Jack Ma was an English teacher who nobody heard from when the Internet was barely used in China. Today, the internet is ablaze that nobody has heard from China’s most famous billionaire.
For more than 10 weeks, Ma has vanished off the media landscape where the tech-empire leader once was so prevalent. The Alibaba Group and Alipay founder criticized Chinese regulators for being too conservative in an Oct. 24 speech. They executed a last-minute block of potentially the world’s largest initial public offering for Ant Group, an Alipay online financial arm. Alibaba’s stock subsequently nosedived, dropping 26% from late October to late December.
Ma, who has symbolized the tech boom since starting online shopping and cloud computing giant Alibaba in 1999, uncharacteristically has stayed off social media and canceled television appearances since then. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Beijing could take a larger stake of his business.
“The Jack Ma Era is ended,” the Yueyue Talks Technology blog wrote. “It’s too late to say goodbye.”
Chinese regulators want Ant Group to overhaul its business model for more financial supervision after the Chinese government already announced that it launched an antitrust investigation two weeks ago into Alibaba. The business practices prevent associates from doing business with rivals.
“But certainly it’s remarkable … the silence is somewhat deafening,” investment firm BDA China founder Duncan Clark told CNN.
Ma is Alibaba’s largest shareholder at 5%, which is worth $25 billion, but he resigned as its executive chairman in 2019. His recent public imprint has been from philanthropic work, television appearances and financial speeches.
“What we need is to build a healthy financial system, not systematic financial risks,” Ma said at a Shanghai conference in October. “To innovate without risks is to kill innovation. There’s no innovation without risks in the world.”
He has not been heard from since then.